There is a bit of a running joke amongst the cast where one of us will mention something crazy or stupid about the American way of life that has the punch line of “this is why the rest of the world hates us”. Maybe there is a thread of truth in some of it, but a chunk of it has to have more than just that thread. With “Generation Wealth,” photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield not only verifies the validity of the bit but takes it to an extreme of truth and realism.
Profiling our country in the last quarter century stemming from a photoshoot she did in the early ‘90s about a bunch of children of privilege in Los Angeles including the son of REO Speedwagon singer Kevin Cronin, she explores how the end of the Decade of Excess (the ‘80s) led to a generation of kids and their parents obsessed with more to the point of ruin. From the adult film star that exposed Charlie Sheen to Las Vegas party hostess Tiffany Masters, notorious hedge fund head Florian Homm and even the subjects of her previous work “The Queen of Versailles,” this is a disturbing look into greed (and yes, the Gordon Gecko clip IS in here) that is not as much of a wakeup call as it is brightening the light on a problem we all know is there but are not really wanting to recognize as the issue that it is. Greenfield even features her own family (both her parents and the one she has created with her husband and co-producer in Frank Evers) in a way that shows how her work has affected the way they see the subject itself. They by no means live the life of luxury, but they also know how to discuss the concepts that she has been documenting, which also overlaps with other topics like self-image (featured in another documentary she did called “Thin”), social acceptance, and the lessons learned by a lifestyle of luxury after a fall.
While this is an amazingly done film, it is also one that had me shaking my head and saying “are you KIDDING ME” quite a bit. This is a testament to Greenfield’s eye for storytelling that translates beautifully from a still lens to one that shoots moving pictures. If there is an issue here it is that it time jumps a bit, even within the same storyline, without a true sense of earmarking where it was at certain points. I would have like to have seen a simple graphic letting the audience know a bit more often not only where we were in the timeline but also a more frequent reminder of who the subject at the time is to keep things moving smoothly. Do not let this keep you away from this wonderful film, but also be prepared to not see what we like to refer to as “the feel-good movie of the year” in order to say “THIS is why the rest of the world hates us”.