SUNDANCE: Generation Wealth Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Published Jan 23, 2018Renowned anthropological photographer Lauren Greenfield has made a career out of capturing American excess as its worse, and her knack for getting to the core of her subjects has allowed her to transition into a documentary career.
Following 2012's The Queen of Versailles, Greenfield has delivered Generation Wealth. The film's title and poster suggest that the doc will deconstruct the latest crop of millennial social media socialites, whose privileged and highly curated lifestyles are broadcast around the clock. Certainly there is some mention of that, but the film doubles as a sort of autobiographical retrospective of Greenfield's career.
Onscreen, Greenfield and her assistant dig through half-a-million negatives, revisiting photographs from her entire collection. Along the way, she catches up with her subjects, interviewing former 90210 socialites, white collar criminals, plastic surgery addicts, limousine drivers and adult entertainers along with reused footage from The Queen of Versailles. As if that weren't enough, she also discusses the corrosive nature of wealth with the likes of Bret Easton Ellis and Chris Hedges. Oh, and then there's the discussion of her own life and upbringing, including interviews with her parents and children.
Generation Wealth is decidedly cluttered, so much so that it's hard to even remember what the movie was about, aside from Greenfield's own career accomplishments. She attempts to address that by acknowledging the hypocrisy of her own struggles with addiction to work. Still, the quick admission doesn't do much to control the pure excess of the film.
The result is an unnerving and confusing documentary that will leave you feeling nauseous — both by the disgusting decadence of the wealthy, and by the shocking and often unnecessary images onscreen. After all, Generation Wealth interpolates scenes of Greenfield helping her children do homework with the aftermath of a 58-man bukkake scene (spoiler alert: the semen gave adult performer Kacey Jordan salmonella). It's confusing and crass, muddling the intended message that extreme wealth can't bring joy. (Evergreen Pictures)