Movie Review: Generation Wealth

Lauren Greenfield tackles wealth culture in her new documentary

In 2012, filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s acclaimed documentary The Queen of Versailles brought us the story of Jackie and David Siegel, the couple building the largest single family private home in America. To this day, it’s one of my all-time favorite documentaries. Greenfield is able to communicate so much about this couple, all without inserting herself into the narrative. Her richly drawn portrait is both sympathetic and exasperating. As we follow the Siegel’s riches to rags story, it’s a stark reminder that the American dream is not what it once was. In a culture that is increasingly obsessed with excess, the American dream of The Queen of Versailles has a perverse fun-house quality that is difficult to face head on.

In her latest documentary, Generation Wealth, Greenfield once again tackles the subject of wealth culture. It’s a topic that she’s based her entire career around, and there’s no doubting the fact that she is an expert on the area. Instead of focusing on a single person or couple as she did in Versailles, Generation Wealth jumps around between a handful of different interviewees. She attacks the topic not just from the angle of excess money a-la the Siegels; here, she’s much more interested in how wealth culture intersects with other areas of our lives. In one of the documentaries best segments, she makes the keen comparison between wealth and the obsession with body image pushed on women. When exploring how women are taught from a young age that being beautiful is a commodity, she’s on her game. But other segments, such as a portion of the film that focuses on sex work, feel more like they’re being shoved in rather than fitting seamlessly into the flow of the narrative.

But perhaps the biggest misstep was Greenfield’s decision to include her own voice-over narration throughout much of the film’s runtime. Here, she falls victim to a classic mistake, one she sidestepped so gracefully with Versailles. In Generation Wealth, she just can’t resist the urge to insert both her home life and personal opinion into the story she’s trying to tell. This is a hugely ambitious project, and her desire to find a thread that links all of us – whether they be the owner of a home with solid gold toilet seats or just a regular girl with a reality TV addiction – is admirable. But it doesn’t change the fact that simply stepping back and viewing the acts of excess from afar likely would have said more than any added dialogue ever could.

Generation Wealth is now playing in Miami theaters. For showtimes, visit this page.

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