Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 106 minutes
Directed by: Lauren Greenfield
It’s well-known that, when it comes to money, the extremely wealthy and their progeny have a totally different pathology than the rest of us. However, whatever the uber rich are doing to themselves (and even their dogs), there’s a trickle-down effect that rots the psyche of the remaining population. It’s conspicuous consumption at its finest. Leave it to astute filmmaker, insightful photographer and badass cultural anthropologist Lauren Greenfield to get to the bottom of it in GENERATION WEALTH. She’s documented the 1% and their frivolity for twenty-five years, tapping into the pop culture zeitgeist with introspection and empathy. This documentary plays like Greenfield’s greatest hits, and is a staggering portrait of what happens when treat yo’self culture goes unchecked. It’s both bruising and beautiful, sorrowful and sensational, all whilst being a savage exploration of humanity’s insatiable nature.
In many ways, GENERATION WEALTH is the culmination of Greenfield’s work. The roots of her grand thesis can be traced back to her elite Southern California high school days, where she witnessed the spending habits of the children of old money and the nouveau riche. Her travels to understand the cultural value of money and its psychological impact led her on a quest around the world – from an impoverished Mayan village to the Las Vegas strip. It’s an eye-opening amalgam of a well-rounded career that deals in soul-searching reflection as much as the superficiality of excess.
The glitz and glamour Greenfield captures is astounding and heartbreaking in equal measure. She doesn’t shy away from the consequences of the toxicity of wealth, showing how traditional values got lost in our pursuit of the American Dream. The fallout from monetary excess and obsession is far worse for her female subjects (miscarriage, death, divorce, homelessness, poverty) than her male ones (exile), but it takes a toll regardless of gender.
Not only is wealth culture under the microscope, Greenfield’s lens is also focused on the commodification of women’s bodies, motherhood and addiction. All these aspects fall under the umbrella of her thesis – that money can’t buy happiness. Plus, in a brave move for any documentarian, she also examines the impact her own obsessive drive to document others’ lives has taken on her family and marriage. There are quite a few eye-opening, provocative revelations that are honest and universal. That said, none of them whip the audience into a frenzy like her previous charged documentary, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES. The common throughline of her decades-long look isn’t just the wads of cash spent for temporary gratification, but the feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, regret and guilt that often follow.
GENERATION WEALTH illustrates those clichéd phrases: Be careful what you wish for, love of money is the root of all evil, and money can’t buy happiness. There’s a reason these sayings have stood the test of time – and so will Greenfield’s artistic endeavor to capture society’s ills.
GENERATION WEALTH is now playing in limited release.