When people say money can't buy you happiness, they are wrong. Happiness does arrive, but in the end, it simply doesn't last.
Lauren Greenfield's new documentary, Generation Wealth, throws the viewer into a B-roll swan dive, looking at the rich and famous in all their glory-and eventually, in their desolate ends. The world-renowned photographer documents 25 years of imagery with subjects like former German hedge fund owner Florian Homm, who still sits on the FBI's most wanted list, but comfortably gives interviews from the safe palace in Germany.
Greenfield covered similar territory with 2012's The Queen of Versailles, where Jackie and David Siegel were trying to build the largest house in the world. The Siegels also appear here in an unofficial sequel-type look at their quest many years ago to be the richest. Remember rap star G-Mo, aka Clifton McGee? He shows up here along with porn star and actress Tiffany Masters.
Several figures from Greenfield's past step in front of the camera for a discussion that borders on conceded negligence and depressing honesty. Hearing Homm talk about being "a hamster in a gold-studded wheel" will make you roll your eyes in displeasure, yet keep you glued to the screen just to see how far the rabbit hole goes for the people who live up on top of that mountain.
Greenfield made this film to try to understand where it all began, but that much isn't hard to figure out. As historians and writers reveal, the government uncorking the cap on spending in the 1980's commenced the green paper drowning session. When Ronald Reagan essentially told the public that anyone could be a millionaire on national television and the stock market boomed.
Michael Douglas giving life to a thousand couch potatoes with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street, saying "greed was good and right." Homm directly correlates that film with his need to own every boat and house available across the world. He, like many others shown in the film, had little need for the things that really endure, such as family. They wanted more and more.
What is more fascinating than seeing a six-year-old girl from Arkansas talk about winning beauty contests and making lots of money is the parallels that Greenfield finds in own world and the work. How the world she obsessed over and took millions of pictures eventually sucked her in, away from her family for many days and weeks. She seems to battle with the dedication of her life's work and the toll it took and currently loads on her personal life.
She interviews her parents, both Harvard grads, about the possible clues of her childhood, and how it may have shaped her future. In more ways than one, Generation Wealth is getting at the same moral and meaning that the brilliant Three Identical Strangers did. Why are we the way we are and how much of our past determines our future?
Greenfield's own struggles with her job and life are so much more thought-provoking a swindling hedge fund criminal who now weeps about being detached from his family. Ultimately, the same problem I had with The Queen of Versailles creeps into the enjoyment level of Generation Wealth.
It's hard to feel sorry for rich people who had a choice like everybody else to go the other way but chose not to in the end.
While the access and over-the-top actions of the money-hungry crowd pushed the envelope for what my mind had drawn up, nothing here blew my mind.
The one subject that came close to unique was Suzanne, a workaholic single woman who decided to have a family after the age of 40. Seeing her cling to her old ways of solo decadence while taking care of a kid was intriguing. It's only part of the big picture though.
The reality is people who put objects and wealth over family and friends often lose in the end. You have to spend money in order to truly enjoy it, but when you do so for a long period of time, one becomes captive to it.
As Homm admits in the end, the pursuit of riches is a bag of rotten fruit in the end no matter what. Would he take it all back and do it differently again? I bet not. These people are as predictable as rain, bad drivers, and the sun coming up every morning.
About 35-40 minutes into Generation Wealth, I was bored. Greenfield should make a documentary that has more to do with her own life than the world of millionaires. That is a juicy subject and has potential.
I wouldn't avoid this documentary like the plague, but I would save it for home viewing when you think about investing money with a mysterious stockbroker. It doesn't tell you anything you didn't know going into the flick, and it bores you with rich people's troubles.
There's a whole other world of people out there tearing apart their souls for the extra dollar, but it's not as interesting of a story as it was 10-15 years ago. I'll pass.