Generation Wealth Review
Lauren Greenfield has spent much of her career documenting the lives of those either living in a world of affluence or those chasing to attain it. Generation Wealth serves as an encapsulation of that 25 year journey to examine the personal sacrifices she has made in pursuit of always searching for more in her stories, parallelled with the evolution of a money obsessed capitalist society she suggests could be on the brink of collapse.
The documentary also acts as a companion piece to Greenfield's book and touring exhibition that uses many of the same subjects and topics discussed in the film. She looks at how the pursuit of money and achieving the dream of wealth has affected their lives before, during and after catching up with their current status in life today.
Greenfield mentions she came to the realisation that the various films she has made to date - which include the hugely successful Queen of Versailles and shorts like Kids + Money and Beauty CULTure - are all somehow related and when connected together point towards a much larger problem. The idea being that over the past 40 years the increased pursuit of money and fame has led to an incurably hedonistic culture that is spiralling out of control.
It's an ambitious film that attempts to take on an extremely wide scope during its two hour run but it barely scratches the surface of its target, struggling to tie its multiple threads together into a coherent whole. This isn't helped by Greenfield's own story and relationship with her parents and her children gradually taking centre stage. It undermines the proposed interrogation of how the commodification of the female form, porn, TV, the finance sector and corporate branding have warped the perception of the past few generations.
While Greenfield catches up with some of her old subjects, Professor Chris Hedges offers the only outside analysis of what this might mean for the world in general. His sporadic appearances are reduced down to bite-sized sensationalist headlines such as comparing modern society to the Roman Empire before the fall, stating how historically the greatest stockpile of wealth has always been accrued before a dramatic collapse. The idea itself doesn't seem ludicrous but it is presented without any supporting evidence and often appears out of context with the narrative presented around it.
There is a shapelessness to Generation Wealth that often feels like it has been made by someone who has picked up Greenfield's book before flicking through the chapters at random. Back and forth the pages flit, skimming across the content and only momentarily picking out highlights that catch the eye. While it is clearly a personal project about her own life, the truth is that her journey is no way near interesting enough compared the grander ideas alluded to at the beginning.
The last half hour drags on for an eternity as Greenfield insists only closing the arc of everyone that has featured in the film, queuing up the melancholic score to coincide with the welling of the eyes. Which isn’t meant to demean their personal stories but they are done no favours by creating such a false cinematic moment. The idea behind Generation Wealth was a good one but the execution is sadly well below par.