Born Rich is Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson’s sophomoric documentary about youthful privilege, and privileged youth. Its main vehicle is interviews conducted by Johnson of his friends, throughout the course of which each reveals him- or herself generally incompetent of anything worthwhile and frighteningly removed from consequence and reality.
The documentary is also an interview with Johnson: the audience, presented with an ungodly tableau of wealth and ease, questions it all. How did you get it? Do you appreciate it? What do you think about it? What are you doing with it? Do you know what it’s like to do without? And Johnson, by dint of recurring monologue, makes an attempt at answers, but falls flat. Most of his commentary ends with a question mark and nothing is resolved.
Not only is nothing resolved… nothing is interesting. The film is the live-action version of gossip page photographs. There’s a slight, superficial glimpse into an exotic world full of shiny animals, but no real substance. No close examination in any particular direction, no hard questions.
In one scene, Johnson asks his father for life advice. Specifically, what should he do with his? The advice is to consider graduate school of some type and, failing that, to think about taking up an interest in collecting antique maps and historic documents. The detached whimsy of collecting conversation-starters is vintage WASP, frivolity imbued with a Patrician sense of civic-minded preservation, and Johnson’s film hints that he agrees: the suggestion seems to strike him as ridiculous. There’s a chance he’ll want to do something productive and commendable with his life, and the audience almost applauds.
That commendable life never takes form. The film ends in a celebration of Johnson’s twenty-first birthday: guests in tails pouring champagne. At midnight that night, Johnson is set to inherit his fortune.
Ironically, Johnson now writes a gossip column for Vanity Fair about, quelle surprise, jetsetters and the horsey set. It’s likely his entre with that caste earned him the appointment, because his abilities as a writer certainly didn’t.
For all his name-making at the expense of wealthy cohorts, Johnson doesn’t fall much farther from the free himself: the only appeal his film and column enjoy, they derive from his last name, not from any natural skill of his own. There’s a metaphor there.
Born Rich and Johnson’s column (which generally totals two paragraphs, once a month), are each disappointing in comparison to their potential. What might have been an interesting, or at least entertaining, anthropologist’s window into a weird culture is squandered and lost in a disjointed search for direction. Lots of parties and expensive clothing, and a vague notion that there ought to be meaning or purpose somewhere or other but no real search for either. Perhaps in that way, the whole adventure is Johnson’s personal metaphor.
The main impression Born Rich leaves is that Jamie Johnson had a small attack of guilt at the hands of his money, purged himself with a half-assed “documentary” to prove he can see his world from afar, and then went on about his life, unchanged.