Review: 'Generation Wealth', Lauren Greenfield's Look Into Money And Culture

Generation Wealth is the newest of the Amazon studios documentaries. The film, made by photographer Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles, Thin), examines the accumulation of wealth and the excesses of our culture. Over the past twenty five years Greenfield has been working on documenting stories that seemed to always relate to money and wealth. Greenfield is from Los Angeles and much of her work highlights different aspects of LA’s culture, but that doesn’t stop her from exploring areas around the globe.

Throughout Generation Wealth, Greenfield focuses on specific stories that she has encountered through her career from former multimillionaire hedge fund managers who lost it all to bus drivers using all their wealth – plus some – to go down to Brazil for thousands of dollars in plastic surgery, to a mother and daughter team riding the child beauty pageant circuit, Greenfield manages to incorporate stories from all areas of the socioeconomic spectrum. This diversity was welcomed and provided an interesting insight into how wealth and image can affect those from different backgrounds. Greenfield is able to show how perceptions of wealth and value can change in Generation Wealth by tracking down some high school students that she captured early in her career flaunting money and trying to fit in with the Los Angele’s elite as well as an aspiring rapper who rapped about only caring about money and status. This dynamic works extremely well and these stories add an interesting aspect to the film. Greenfield touches on what the desire for wealth and status have done to the world and how they have changed culture. Has money and wealth slowly shifted the paradigm to become synonymous with culture? Can money itself, or the desire for it, be a cultural aspect?

Generation Wealth suffers from not having a clear singular vision. Many of the individual stories are interesting, but some I could have done without. Greenfield scoured through thousands of photographs that she has taken throughout her career to find subjects and images to feature throughout Generation Wealth and the work is apparent, there is an eclectic mix that spans decades. Unfortunately many of the photos/stories are just used to shock and surprise with not much added depth to them. I struggled to find a rhythm throughout the film – I was interested in the subject matter itself and found some of the photos and people discussed to be compelling, yet there was something missing. It is possible that the topic is just too large to be captured in a single documentary and Greenfield could have benefitted from narrowing her focus to a particular aspect of wealth. By the end of Generation Wealth we see the outcomes for many of the subjects in the film. Their tales do not always end on a positive note, but it seems that many of them learned valuable lessons about what wealth really is. Generation Wealth has some interesting aspects to it, but they are not enough to vault it into the must see category.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5