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Generation Wealth **1/2

Documentarian Lauren Greenfield examines society’s obsession with wealth, image and material possessions in this cautionary doc that raises more questions than it can answer. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

The fact that the United States is a nation of avarice and consumption is not a surprising revelation. The question this inspires, however, is intriguing: What does the insatiable desire for money, sexiness, and all things gaudy say about us as a society?

Writer/director Lauren Greenfield’s documentary “Generation Wealth” earnestly tries to answer this question, with only moderate success. Greenfield uses her 20-plus years as a photographer as a way to examine pop culture artifacts, and by extension the populace’s obsession with these items. To her credit, she doesn’t do this by staying behind the camera and judging others; rather, she also looks at herself, her parents, her husband and children to get a sense of how these social mores (especially living in Los Angeles) have affected her life. The results are…nothing revelatory in that the family seems just like everyone else, but in a way, that’s the point.



Perspective is offered. Some pundits believe the yearning for affluence is a sign that society is about to collapse. Florian Homm, a hedge fund manager once worth $800 million who now can’t leave Germany, opines on how money consumed him, and ultimately cost him his family. Limo Bob holds the Guinness World Record for owning the longest limousine. Why? So he can rent it out and make money, naturally. Porn star Kacey Jordan chased money while pursuing her career, only to realize it didn’t bring her the happiness she thought it would.

Greenfield also offers cautionary tales in the form of Los Angeles kids who were consumed by materialism when she first started taking photos in the early ‘90s, and where they are today. All are more humble now, reflecting back on their earlier priorities with wonder and befuddlement.

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Does money equal success? Depends on how you define success. Is staying young and sexy essential to happiness? You’d have to ask someone who no longer feels young and sexy, but to whom that is important. How bad is it that what we see in pop culture fuels inadequacy as we covet what others have? Individual answers may vary, but as a society this is a horrible trend that suggests our priorities are way out of whack.

“Generation Wealth” isn’t easy to watch because holding a mirror to American society in 2018 isn’t a pretty sight. Life, of course, has a way of humbling us, though even that isn’t enough for some to stop being consumed with consuming. This much is for sure: Money can’t buy everything, including long-term happiness, but it sure can help you enjoy life, at least for a while.

Did you know?
Greenfield’s subjects in her much-lauded 2012 doc “The Queen of Versailles,” Jackie and David Siegel, also appear in this film.

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