In life, there are stories that need to be told. Stories so compelling that when a writer comes across them, those stories practically write themselves. "Born Rich" is not one of those stories.
I'm fairly certain that, while many of us may envy those with wealth and power, we rarely have wondered what drives the daily lives of their offspring. One of the aforementioned offspring, a man who will never have to know the pains of moonlighting to pay the rent or struggling to make a car payment, has decided to explore the world of those who are, as the title would suggest, born rich.
First-time filmmaker Jamie Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson fortune, takes the time to sit down with his contemporaries, peers, and friends to explore what similar experiences they have shared in life and to attempt to distill the essence of a life of privilege. Johnson's subjects vary wildly in their upbringing and level of wealth, from well-known figures like the lovely Ivanka Trump to people like Luke Weill who have the same access to cash without the high profile.
Johnson's questions do well to expose more than the superficial prince-or-princess image that's portrayed in the high society pages of the media and bring us to an understanding of the reasons for these wealthy folk's actions. Many viewers would be surprised by the thoughtful and articulate portrayal of Ivanka Trump while she talks about the nature of wealth. Other interviewees, like the aforementioned Luke Weill, are very honest about their station in life and how their wealth influences them. Still others, like S.I. Newhouse talk about being brought up without the access to the money they were introduced to later and how it influences them.
I came into the documentary expecting to see a generic, or over-compensatingly sympathetic, picture of what it is like to be born without an understanding of the struggles of the reality of the masses. What is presented is a fair and even look at the nature of wealth and the good and the bad it can bring to its bearer. Johnson glosses over some of the worse excesses that we've heard about, the drug problems and excessive partying (idle hands and all that), though does touch on them briefly. The documentary prefers to talk more about the people behind the money in an attempt to dispel stereotypes held by the majority of the public on the rich.
In my review of "American Pimp" I said that while I never had an interest in the subject it was still worth recording to achieve an accurate picture of all elements of society. The same is true here. For every ten documentaries like "American Jobs" that play to the viewers sympathies of the downtrodden, it's important to see works like "Born Rich" to comprehend how another element of our society exists to understand the complex interplay of the country's social strata.
"Born Rich" is a good technical documentary. A wide variety of subjects are talked to about a host of subjects and Johnson comes, by the end of the film, to a better understanding of his peers. His narration is clunky and forced yet appropriate because of his inherent ethos. He is able to extricate some great thoughts from his interviewees and the twist at the end of the story is almost as telling as some of their words. The film is well-edited and none of the interviews seem to drag, though some amble without an immediately-available point, and everyone's personality is allowed to shine. At the end of the day, unfortunately, the material is forgettable. Had I never seen "Born Rich" I don't know that my opinions on the "Haves" in society would be any different. The elite few would still have more money than I and I would still be as apathetic about their comings and goings as they are about mine.
Ultimately, while coming in I wasn't too curious about the lives of those born into wealth; "Born Rich" was able to bring some sympathy into their story. Johnson paints a picture of humanity on a group that are often seen on a pedestal and stereotyped. While many of those preconceptions are supported, like the subjects' lack of attachment to how the majority sees the world, we find they are human. A neat diversion but ultimately forgettable.
Johnson takes his camera to a wide variety of locations to capture his subjects and this DVD does a fine job of recreating the experience. The interior shots are well-lit and the definition of color and shadow are perfectly serviceable. The exterior shots, from the stables to the shops of Times Square, are richly reproduced. Grain isn't a problem and there aren't any instances of print damage that I noticed. The short feature doesn't have a problem with compression, either.
The 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack is, much like the video, excellent. The nature of this documentary is very controlled and that is reflected in the quality of the reproduction, from the external shots to the on-the-fly recordings in cars and bars. Everything comes through clean with no noticeable distortion.
"Born Rich" doesn't feature a wealth of extras but what is present is worth its weight in gold. The disc features a pair of commentaries with the filmmakers. The first is a solo track of the director Jamie Johnson that is enlightening and interesting. His regular speaking voice is so much more pleasant than his narration voice, and the information he imparts really expands the topics of the movie. He's a bit of a perfectionist in his dialogue delivery so he'll stop and restart a few times but the points he brings across are interesting and appropriate. The second track is more conversational (and descriptive) between Johnson, subject Cody Franchetti, and producer Dirk Wittenborn. The three talk about a lot of background information and very little is duplicated from the solo Johnson commentary, though Wittenborn casts Johnson in a similar light to his contemporaries, something I felt he avoided in the movie proper.
The set also contains some deleted scenes that are more outtakes than anything. S.I. Newhouse gives a tour of his father's house and you get a real sense of his family interactions and how he feels about his lineage, even though they aren't present. A somewhat intoxicated man named Gavin make jokes about an African safari and international travel. If this material were included it would have pandered to the preconceived notions that everyone brought in about excessive decadence. The deleted scenes run about 15 minutes in total.
A slice of life that most people would otherwise never be privy to, "Born Rich" is a great counter to the excessive publicity poured on pseudo-celebrities like Paris Hilton and VH1 specials on her ilk. It humanizes a group that is a walking dichotomy, though few have ever thought to look at them any deeper than at a surface level. A slice of life to be sure, but it will have little impact on your daily life and will hardly affect your worldview, though you may look at wealth and those who possess it a little differently.