Generation Wealth

 

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A distinctive but hardly distinguished documentary about modern day attitudes.

 

Generation Wealth

 

Lauren Greenfield is best known for her 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles which looked at the lives of the billionaire David Siegel and his third wife Jackie. Her new film, Generation Wealth, does look back on that earlier work but this time offers not a portrait but a thesis and it is one concerned less with those who have wealth than with the all-consuming desire amongst present-day Americans to acquire it. Greenfield’s father sought to improve himself but was possessed too of a sense of service to others, whereas this film sets out to suggest that the younger generations have embraced the belief of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987) that greed is good.

 

But it is not just the ruthless accumulation of wealth that Greenfield is criticising here. If people once vied with their neighbours within limits, she now sees television and ready access to pornography as factors that make for a society that pursues illusory goals, be it great looks or perfect happiness. A desire to defeat aging through plastic surgery or to acquire some kind of celebrity status by appearing on television is seen to be just as typical of the age as is the actual pursuit of money linked to exploitation of others. If all this has indeed become the American way, Greenfield sees it as a wider ranging disease too (her film extends briefly to other countries such as Iceland and Russia).

 

Generation Wealth is not without ambitions but, as it emerges here, its social analysis is more superficial than detailed and Jeff Beal’s lightweight music score adds to this sense. Furthermore, Greenfield not only revisits her earlier work but provides substantial footage about herself and her family. She seems to be saying that her own failure to be as good a mother as she should have been was down to being a workaholic and that her own obsession is close to the need for more and still more which characterises those who pursue wealth. However, this does not seem a valid parallel since workaholics have always existed and that state has little to do with the outlook of the present time: in consequence, given the extent of the stress on this, the film never fully coheres. Indeed, as a warning about the state of Trump’s America (the man himself is merely glimpsed in passing), the film may legitimately point to eating disorders and suicide as the fate of many caught up in current unhealthy attitudes, but it seems inappropriate in this context to show several figures unexpectedly admitting the error of their ways. This provides a soft ending to a film which to support its bleak portrait of present-day attitudes should have been tough. Add that the film seems overlong at 106 minutes and what we have here is, indeed, a film of varied and interesting ideas but not one that delivers its argument as firmly as it should have done.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jacqueline Siegel, Bobby Strauser, Robert Strauser, Limo Bob, Chris Hedges.

 
Dir Lauren Greenfield, Pro Frank Evers, Lauren Greenfield and Wallis Annenberg, Screenplay Lauren Greenfield, Ph Robert Chappell, Lauren Greenfield, Shana Hagan, Jerry Risius and Lars Skree, Ed Aaron Wickenden, Michelle Witten, Victor Livingston and Dan Marks, Music Jeff Beal.

 

Amazon Studios/Evergeen Pictures-Dogwoof.
106 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 20 July 2018. Cert. 18.