The movie is a mishmash of the director’s family history (retired parents and teenage children get a fair amount of screen time), musing regarding modern-day materialism, and interviews with people whose lives have been affected by parental or personal earnings.
One interesting character is Florian Homm, a fugitive from U.S. justice due allegations of fraud while running a hedge fund, resulting in investor losses of up to $200 million. He is back in his native Germany, which supposedly refuses to extradite its citizens (would that be true for an accused murderer or is it that they won’t extradite for a financial crime?). The filmmaker interviews Homm’s adult son and the son’s girlfriend for an all-around perspective.
Another interesting subject is a New Yorker who works on Wall Street. She refuses to consider the idea of marrying a lower-income man (a prudent policy in light of New York State’s winner-take-all family law) and explains that the pool of available men is thus quite small. At around age 40 she does find an old rich guy to marry and goes through exotic fertility treatments and the hiring of a surrogate. He eventually leaves her for a younger woman (i.e., the 70-year-old found a 30-year-old sex partner).
Kacey Jordan was featured as someone who went from minimum wage to high-paid porn star and then back to minimum wage. There was plastic surgery during this journey, which is another theme of the movie. Lauren Greenfield, the director, follows a bus driver “single mom” to Brazil for a life-changing investment in plastic surgery.
One interesting aspect is that the born-in-1966 Greenfield follows her classmates from a rich kids’ private high school into their adult lives.
The movie takes some swipes at Donald Trump and his supporters (they’re exposed as crass idiots!) and also takes a variety of standard 21st century feminist positions. Yet the filmmaker’s own life story contradicts the feminist complaints. Her college boyfriend-turned-husband is the person cited for maximum encouragement and facilitation of her career. He urges her not to quit in the early days when she’s discouraged and he takes care of an infant child while she travels to Asia on an assignment.
The central thesis is poorly supported. The film shows people today saying things about money-obsessed Americans that the film also shows people saying in the 1990s. Do we know that people didn’t have similar things to say in the 1970s about young Arab royals or circa 1900 about the children of industrialists? The world is richer so maybe there are just more rich kids running around.
One idea that does seem worth exploring is whether people are now less likely to aspire to be like their richest neighbor. The film says that, due to increased availability of media, Americans aspire to be like the rich crazy spenders that they see through electronic media. I wonder if this can be true. As the population booms and jobs are concentrated in a handful of cities, the realistic trajectory for a young American is a 2BR apartment shared among 4 people. Do the occupants of that crammed apartment look at an 8,000-square-foot house in Beverly Hills as a realistic aspiration?
My big take-away from the movie is that sending kids to a fancy private school is risky. Teenagers with a lot of unearned money to spend are not the best role models.