“Generation Wealth”

 

            Writer and Director Lauren Greenfield is all over the place with her poignant documentary about our cultural excesses.  She jumps from one topic to the next like she has some attention deficit disorder, or like she's taken all this footage and by golly, she's determined to show it to us.

            She had chronicled some Hollywood teenagers some 22 years ago, and in their follow-up interviews they seem like, well, ordinary middle-aged people.  It's hardly news that in our forties we shake our heads at how we were as adolescents.  But Ms. Greenfield is trying to make the point that we all contribute to the group pathology of covetousness.

            Topless dancers on their hands and knees for the dollar bills.  Jailed money market managers telling us how the temporary wealth wasn't worth it.  Aging porn stars returning to minimum wage jobs as cashiers, but they've recovered some of their self-respect.  Women who have spent their life savings on cosmetic surgery that actually detracts from their appearance.  A tearful man caught in the 2008 financial crisis as he faces foreclosure on his home.  The mother who spent a small fortune entering her six-year-old in beauty contests, complete with makeup, hair, and wardrobe, but now that the kid is a chubby 11-year-old, no more pageants.  There are photos of Kim Kardashian and Kate Hudson at 12 years old (implying that they are the icons we chase), but no interviews from them.  It's mostly about the people who have chased the elusive American Dream to their detriment.  And caused pain to themselves and those around them.

            Interestingly, Ms. Greenfield does not exampt herself from scrutiny.  She puts her mother and father on camera (separately, because they are long since divorced), as well as her husband and both of her sons, one of whom asks her to please stop filming him, and the other speaks quite frankly about how hard it is to live up to the standards of his older sibling (who got a perfect score on his ACT test). Ms. Greenfield, after letting us know that she and her husband and her parents all went to Harvard, will herself admit to being a “workaholic,” which may be in the general category of behavioral excess, but certainly is less ruinous than all the other addictions she so assiduously chronicles.

            Is she speaking the truth?  Yes.  Though she paints a bleak picture of our seamy underside.  Does she do so in a respectful fashion?  Well, let's say her goal was not to make everybody look noble and unselfish.  And what was the point of including footage of Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign?  Condemnation by association?  You'll have to ask her that yourself.

            “Generation Wealth” is neither sweet nor inspiring, but it does hold up a grimy mirror to a self-obssessed culture that appears to be in its final stages of entropy.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association