- Kevin Harley
- 16 July 2018
Lauren Greenfield's latest documentary returns to the subject of the super-rich
In 2012's The Queen of Versailles, documentarian Lauren Greenfield gave off-the-rails consumerism a human face through a watchful focus on an obscenely rich US family. After various shorts and TV jobs, Greenfield's new documentary draws on her own book for a broader study of capitalism's casualties, with the resulting gains and losses. Despite Greenfield's gripping ambition, rich detail and careful structuring, a struggle for focus leads to awkward judgements and ill-placed autobiographical details, neither enough to pull her multiple story strands tight.
The interviewees offer sufficient on-the-money material to get on with. Chomping a cigar with the look of a man who can't get gratification fast enough, former hedge-fund manager Florian Homm extended his everything's-for-sale principles to his son when he took the 15-year-old to a prostitute; as the son recounts the story, his partner watches aghast. Appalled already? Wait until you see the six-year-old beauty queen who adores money.
Greenfield clearly illustrates how uncaring capitalism commodifies everything, with a keen focus on women's bodies. Referring to her own body as 'property', one woman mutilates herself; another resorts to cosmetic surgery, desperately seeking elusive satisfaction. Some commentators compare modern decadence to Rome's fall, others to a deep-seated narcissism embodied in Donald Trump. Either way, Greenfield extends her net wide (to Russia, China and beyond) and keeps her eye alert, teasing out potent twists from her intimate connections with her subjects.
As the director tots up the high cost of toxic vanity to surprisingly moving ends, it's hard not to feel short-changed when she weaves in her own experiences. Comparisons between unchecked materialism and Greenfield's family anxieties seem both frustratingly flimsy and self-promotional. A search for tidy conclusions leads Greenfield to platitudes about what money can't buy: and if there is one thing Generation Wealth proves, it's that sentimentality is not enough to fix the deep-seated issues at stake here.
Selected release from Fri 20 Jul.