This is a film worth seeing. It is obvious that it is a first attempt (some of the technical details weren't worked out, despite the money backing it), but it is a good first attempt. That said, you might find yourself wanting to shake some of the subjects in this documentary and say, "Stop this nonsense." It's important to note that the subjects are all young adults, still teenagers really, and thusly they are still by nature self-centered and their wealth only seems to prolong their stay in that shallow intellectual puddle.
Jamie Johnson is clearly attempting to elevate himself out of that puddle in this project and is likeable and seemingly more mature than many of the subjects in this documentary, but many of his thoughts about his lifestyle lack profundity. Of course, this isn't really surprising given his age (21) when he made this.
It's somewhat amusing and somewhat sad that while these privileged young people employ their Brown University educations to quote philosophers like Balzac and writers like Hemmingway, they don't have any of the life experience to relate to these thinkers. I hate to break it to Jamie and the others in the film, but many of the conclusions he'd reached have already been reached by others for generations. They are just too insulated to realize that what they are just now "discovering" about the challenges of their position is old news.
All in all, the documentary seems to conclude with the notion that all the adjustment problems of these wealthy young heirs come from the fact that wealth is often not discussed in polite company, but rather sprung on them when they are "of age", which I suppose makes the rest of the world not involved in the elite society impolite since we have been talking about this for quite some time now. That someone on the inside, so to speak, has finally dawned on the idea that wealthy heirs must make use of themselves or be forgotten from history is simply a novelty, not a profundity. Nonetheless, it is interesting in a voyeuristic way.
I can't decide whether Jamie is admitting to guilt for his wealth, or simply seeking to absolve himself of the guilt of unearned privilege. It seems that he wants to no longer have to apologize or hide the fact that he is an heir to wealth, which bespeaks a kind of resentment for the meritocracy he so blithely dismisses as a myth in our society at the beginning of the film.
The point he seems to come just short of grasping is that this still is a meritocracy, for with all the money that these heirs enjoy, if they do nothing with it but fritter it away in indolent pursuit, they render themselves meaningless to the world at large. They only weild power through opportunity if they actually weild it. Weilding money isn't the same thing. If they do not perpetuate the wealth through using opportunities, the wealth will eventually die out along with their opportunity and therefore any chance of influence. So the problem works itself out over time.
I also think he misses the point that the money they've inhereted wasn't stolen from the mouths of starving third-world children and given to them (one hopes); their families earned it and chose to bequeath it to them. If they choose to be useless, it isn't as if that money just vaporizes into thin air merely because they are no longer in possession of it. If they put it back into the market via shopping or drinking or whatever, that money then becomes someone else's profit. By all means, be stupid with your money so that someone else can earn it and feed their family and provide them opportunities.
You may find yourself alternately being disgusted with and having pity for a few of the subjects in the film. The eurotrash he features (one pointless descendant of dead royalty, and one heir/model) are the very stereotype of pompous vanity, despite their attempts to assure us that it is in fact morality and guilt that is provencial and quaintly stupid. One could almost feel bad for them, but then... who really cares if that's how they choose to live their lives?
Luke Weil, one of the subjects and the heir of the Autotote fortune, comes off as simultaneously amusing and pathetic in his bitter rants about how life "really" is. Coming from someone who is barely old enough to drink, you simply have to laugh at his appearance of adolescent superficial cynicism, and if you're the charitable type, you might hope that he comes around lest he become yet another one of those mean-spirited lonely patrons of strip bars and Vegas casinos who no one really likes, but whose thoughtless spending foots the bill.
Jamie makes an apology for the way that Stephanie Ercklentz appears -- shallow and materialistic -- but nothing was really shown to the audience that leads you to think she possesses more depth than that. If she does and Jamie chose not to show it, you have to ask why. His assurance in the audio commentary that she is really quite intelligent doesn't really wash.
Georgina Bloomberg only seems interesting if you fancy horses.
S.I. Newhouse IV and Josiah Hornblower, both respective heirs to incredibly historic fortunes, are the most thoughtful and introspective, which does help to balance the utter ridiculousness of the other subjects.
Ivanka Trump is the only subject in this entire documentary who actually provoked my compassion. She comes off so level-headed and down-to-earth while holding herself with grace and intelligence -- you can hardly believe that such a person can be the product of such a coarse and vulgar divorce dispute. Given the way the media has treated her, I found her attitudes to be refreshing.
All in all, this is a fascinating documentary, but when it's over, you might find yourself feeling thankful that you do not share their lives (if in fact you don't), and I'm not sure that was Jamie's intention. Not because these young people are victims of their situation, but rather because of who they are NOT becoming as a result of their obsession with themselves. It makes the meritocratic philosophy Americans so hold dear (and the eurotrash in the film so derided) that much more precious. The fact that though most of us may never enjoy the attention of the NY gossip columns, our lives are blessedly free of that kind of superficiality unless, of course, we turn on our televisions and choose to be entertained by the antics of people like this.
I congratulate Jamie for having the chutzpah to do this documentary, and it will be interesting to see if he pursues film as a profession. I suspect he will turn into a very interesting and inspiring man if he does.