Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

Limo Bob in Lauren Greenfield's documentary 'Generation Wealth'

Limo Bob in Lauren Greenfield's documentary 'Generation Wealth'

Documentarian Lauren Greenfield (“The Queen of Versailles”) spent the last 25 years observing wealth culture. Her latest work “Generation Wealth” features an assortment of subjects testifying that money can’t buy you happiness although it sure looks like they are having fun being miserable. Cut down from over 4 hours to 106 minutes, it still feels unfocused and in the end, any sort of moral has become so diluted that you’re left emotionally detached from the film or maybe that just speaks volumes about our current climate.
Watching Greenfield pouring through thousands of photographs she’s taken over the years in an effort to determine which ones will make it into her $75 coffee table book, it’s evident that the film and book are tied together (they bear the same name). “Generation Wealth” is not so much a documentary about how greed and money are destroying society as it is an autobiographical look at Greenfield’s obsession with the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. The filmmaker turns the camera on herself interviewing family members who seem to be disengaged from one another yet intellectual and successful. Is there a price for success? Of course, and there are several examples in the documentary from Greenfield herself and her subjects.
Let’s say you’ve never seen any of Greenfield’s accomplished films, like “Thin,” “Kids + Money,” or “The Queen of Versailles,” well you’re in luck because many of the characters featured in her past work resurface here for another look. Hopefully, you’ll be motivated to take a look at the aforementioned films after viewing this documentary. One thing is for sure, Greenfield knows how to pick interesting subjects. While we’re inundated with all sorts of talking heads, from author Bret Easton Ellis (“Less Than Zero”) to journalist Chris Hedges who declares “It’s kind of like the end of Rome” and “Societies accrue their greatest wealth at the moment they face death,” the documentary is most compelling when the focus remains on its eccentric subjects.
There’s Suzanne, a successful hedge-fund investor who insists it’s her prerogative to work 100 hours a week, never see her family, and die at an early age, a then six-year-old Eden Wood from “Toddlers and Tiaras” who would like to have money as big as a room so she could kiss it, a guy named Limo Bob who wears 33 lbs of jewelry and diamonds worth over $1 million dollars, and cigar-chomping German hedge-fund manager Florian Homm who at one time was worth $300 million and is now on the FBI’s most wanted list for securities fraud. Their stories are fascinating but even after they crash and burn and realize that money is not the most important thing in life, their tears aren’t enough for the audience to feel sympathy. Interesting though, we also aren’t left hating these people.
“Generation Wealth” comes at a time when “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Real Housewives” are the most watched shows on television while our country is led by a President worth 3.1 billion and 20-yr old Kylie Jenner is on her way to be a “self-made” billionaire. Now more than ever we are a society obsessed with wealth and we know it. When Greenfield attempts to show the devastation caused by the almighty dollar I feel most viewers will remain unfazed thanks to our current climate. Still, it’s sad but amusing watching Noah, the teenage son of Florian Homm, comment that he knows the names of all the Kardashians better than those of his neighbors. I have a feeling that he’s not the only one, rich or poor.

  (2 ½ stars)

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society.  He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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