Review: Generation Wealth
All that glitters is not gold, but this documentary is pretty damn close.
Queen of Versailles, released in 2012, was a stand-out documentary that focused on a wealthy family trying to build America’s biggest house despite the economy collapsing around them. Now, Generation Wealth zooms out the lens to focus on a diverse range of people who were once photographed by Lauren Greenfield, the documentary’s director, in her exploration of the theme of wealth. It is something bigger and more three dimensional than Queen of Versailles, albeit slightly less polished.
We are introduced to the theme of wealth via some flamboyant, wealthy characters who provide a snapshot of their lives. These are threaded together with the more down to earth story of the filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, who has learned more about her own struggles in life through her subjects. The photography by Lauren that is featured is stunning – often glossy, lavish portraits of wealthy subjects. So it is a shame that the cinematography, while good, is not consistently as stunning.
The film starts as a peek behind the curtain of the glamorous and bizarre lives of the super wealthy, but quickly delves into something deeper. It critiques our society’s encouragement of our need to always get ‘more,’ and it showcases the damage that is done when we chase this desire.
As the film begins to revisit certain characters, layers are peeled back and we see something progressively darker. We see the dysfunction behind their wealth, and how our needs for more are destructive. We learn of failure and desperation, and the falls from grace that many of the subjects suffer. Some pay a price for their wealth, some lose their wealth, some for better and some for worse. Many of the endings of the characters stories are based on realizations that wealth is not the answer.
Generation Wealth does a good job of starting skin deep and slowly digging beneath the surface – and it is not just wealth that is under scrutiny. They explore the need for fame, beauty, success; anything where people want in excess. And it is all tied together with the realization that society as a whole – whether globally, or the American Empire – is crumbling with all this excess.
It is not until near to the ending that the film falters. It begins to drag out and become overly sentimental – the shift weirdly begins to focus on children and doesn’t tie up the documentary as neatly as you would hope.
Overall, it balances the glamour and grit of wealth and ties it to Lauren’s more normal life to make us turn the same lens back on ourselves and make us ask: are we a part of Generation Wealth?