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Shout Factory presents
"The notion of talking about one's wealth, describing other people's wealth—it’s just kind of tacky."
DVD ReviewIt may well be apocryphal, but the exchange between Fitzgerald and Hemingway about the well heeled couldn't be more appropriate. "The rich are different than you and me," said the former, who got a quick retort from Papa: "Yes, they have more money." Born Rich is a look into a socioeconomic stratum rarely seen outside of the most posh boarding schools and the high-end shops on Madison Avenue—it's a documentary about those few in their late teens and early twenties who are close to wealthy beyond measure, who have inherited a huge amount of money; they're young people who will never have to work a day in their lives, and many of them never will. It's not a great portrait, by any measure, but just the fact that we get to ogle at them, like billionaire animals in a gilded zoo, for an hour, anyway, has its fascinations.
Access to this world probably could only have been attained by a member of the club, so it's no surprise to learn that Jamie Johnson, the film's director, is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune—Band-Aids and talcum powder have him and future generations of Johnsons in clover. Johnson is crazy rich, but I don’t know that he's much of a filmmaker; just the fact that some of these people would talk to him, though, make it worth a look. (Whit Stillman's are probably the closest narrative films to this world, but even those characters would probably need to add more than a couple of zeroes to their bank accounts to be in this league.) Johnson's world is a decidedly Manhattan-centric one, despite the fact that he grew up in New Jersey; he and his comrades now all seem to live in New York, in various stages of unhappiness, guilt, indulgence and denial.
If you had all the money in the world, would you spend your time fencing? S.I. Newhouse IV, heir to the Condé Nast publishing fortune, would and does; he seems the most uncomfortable in his own skin, with obvious issues with his parents, and seems most at home not in New York, but in his dorm at Haverford. Or perhaps you'd ride? That’s the path taken by Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of the mayor of New York and a billionaire media magnate. Some familiar names are here, most notably Ivanka Trump; the stories of all of these young people come to have a sameness to them, and the parlor game you may want to play is: Who's the most loathsome? It's hard to lose a competition like this when you say things like "I'm a German baron and an Italian viscount," but my winner, hands down, is Cody Franchetti, a textile heir who has never been wrong about anything ever. Just ask him. He especially seems to think he's better because he's rich; he isn't, and the question you may start to ask is: is he worse?
There are some necessary topics, like the Hamptons and prenups, and some smart observations—one of the heirs takes on the Protestant work ethic, and can rightly say, with his personal assets, "I live outside the American dream." Perhaps most affecting are the scenes between Jamie Johnson and his father, who has insisted that his son never talk about money, and suggests collecting antique maps as an appropriate career option. Funny, I didn't see that one posted with the other job listings when I was getting out of school.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: It's all pretty fuzzy, with the unintended irony being that this movie about the super-wealthy looks like a pretty low-rent affair. The transfer itself is adequate, with some muddy but consistent colors.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Some buzz and hiss, and all the location shooting brings with it a huge amount of ambient noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Jamie Johnson (track one); Jamie Johnson, Cody Franchetti, Dirk Wittenborn (track two)
Extras Review: The director flies solo on the first commentary track, and in fact he’s much more winning here than in the feature; he discusses the issues of access, and wanting to bust through the secrecy that has enveloped much of his life; he’s especially good musing about the corrosive possibilities of this sort of wealth. It’s also clear that the impact of the film on his world was seismic, that this was the billionaires’ Fahrenheit 9/11, and it seems almost inconceivable to him that the rest of us don’t view it the same way. That’s even more evident on the second commentary, on which Johnson is joined by Dirk Wittenborn, the film’s producer, and Cody Franchetti, one of the unrepentant subjects, who continues to be horrible. This track is mostly idle chatter, with some amusing bits about just how much money it takes to buy your way into college; the filmmakers also charge that some of their most withering critics are trust fund babies themselves. (Sadly, I am neither mean nor rich enough to be among their number.)
A package (14m:15s) of five deleted scenes offers more of the same, including S.I. giving us a tour chez Newhouse, lots and lots of alcohol, and a fleshy drunkard named Gavin, who no doubt will be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (in Freddie Miles mode) in the remake.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAn uneven look at the youngest members of President Bush's base, Born Rich is a movie that could only have been made by a member of its exclusive club, and if it isn't filmmaking of the highest order, it will show you a world that the rest of us can only imagine.
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