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Born Rich (2003)

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A documentary on children of the insanely rich. Directed by one of their own, Johnson & Johnson heir, Jamie Johnson.


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Title: Born Rich (2003)

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Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Herself - Real-Estate Heiress
Georgina Bloomberg ...
Herself - Media Heiress
Si Newhouse IV ...
Himself - Publishing Heir (as S.I. Newhouse IV)
Luke Weil ...
Himself - Gaming Industry Heir
Cody Franchetti ...
Himself - Textile Heir
Stephanie Ercklentz ...
Herself - Finance Heiress
Josiah Hornblower ...
Himself - Vanderbilt / Whitney Heir
Carlo von Zeitschel ...
Himself - European Royalty
Christina Floyd ...
Herself - Professional Sports Heiress
Herself - A&P Supermarket Heiress
Peter L. Skolnik ...
Himself - Attorney (as Peter Skolnik)


A documentary on children of the insanely rich. Directed by one of their own, Johnson & Johnson heir, Jamie Johnson.

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19 January 2003 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


Luke Weil claimed he was tricked into appearing on camera and filed a lawsuit in 2002 trying to prevent this film from seeking distribution, but a New York state Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of director Jamie Johnson. See more »


Luke Weil: Did you ever have an encounter that rubs you the wrong way? It's whoever pisses you off. And I'm up at boarding school. And this kid's from like some shit town in Connecticut. You know, I don't know. I can just say, fuck you, I'm from New York. I can buy your family, piss off. And this is petty, and this is weak. And this is very underhanded, but it's so easy, you know.
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User Reviews

Heir heads
13 October 2006 | by (San Francisco, California, U.S.) – See all my reviews

It is well-known that those with money do not ever speak of money--theirs or anyone else's. Jamie Johnson admirably shattered this longstanding taboo, despite pleas from his own father and lawyer not to make the film, and discovered the hard way what happens when the secrecy curtain is lifted from the uber-wealthy. "Born Rich" is ostensibly Johnson's way of finding normalcy, whatever that may mean to those born into wealth; unfortunately, he was ostracized from the Gen-X upper class for turning a mirror onto the real lives of his blue-blood friends.

The most fascinating part of Born Rich isn't what is seen on camera, but what took place offscreen. Luke Weil sued Johnson to have his footage cut from the film, claiming that he--an Ivy-league-educated adult--was tricked into signing a release. Weil's lawsuit was thrown out, and it is now apparent to the world why he didn't want his footage seen. Among other gems, Weil tells the interviewer that any woman who wouldn't sign a pre-nup is "an ungrateful little bitch," brags of coasting through Brown University without attending class, and how he would taunt classmates with "I can buy your family."

Sadly, Weil is not even the most odious of the film's assembled characters. That distinction belongs to Carlo von Zeitschel, a minor European royal who claims to be a descendant of Kaiser Wilhelm II (strangely, his name does not appear in the Kaiser's family tree). With his chain-smoking and foreign flippancy, he sneers "I have no intention of being loyal to any woman anytime soon, not that I probably ever will be... One day I'll fall in love and I'll get married, whatever. I'll probably get divorced a couple of years later." (In the DVD's deleted scenes, he dismisses his American peers as "so cheesy, they're like the f*cking Brady Bunch.")

Weil's and von Zeitschel's contributions to the film are embarrassing to watch, and epitomize everything that is wrong with inherited wealth. The other heirs in the film do not fare much better: Stephanie Erklentz quit her job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch so she could spend her days shopping and sipping Bellinis with her friends. Cody Franchetti is an Italian textile heir who works as a model because he doesn't want a "real job." Juliet Hartford fancies herself a starving artist (minus the starving part) who, when asked what she would do with a million dollars in cash, says "I'd give it to the homeless," then bursts out laughing and spurts, "Just kidding!"

However, these vignettes also speak volumes about the sense of narcissistic confusion that stems from having enormous wealth handed down without integrity or values. The real problem with some of these kids is poor parenting, not excess. It is very clear that well-rounded, responsible adults come from proper mentoring, not undeserved wealth or social status.

And despite soundbites like these, Johnson manages to make you feel sorry for his subjects; despite their grossly excessive lifestyles, their wealth is tremendously isolating. These children are locked in their own private world, surrounded only by others like them. They have been trained to never socialize or date outside the upper crust, and while most attended college, their trust funds give them no incentive to make a meaningful contribution to the working world, and no mentors to provide guidance. (When Johnson asks his emotionally-detached father for career advice, he is vaguely advised to become a collector of historical maps.) He goes to great lengths to show the perils of having too much money, using his grandfather's messy life as an example.

The bright spot of "Born Rich" is Ivanka Trump, who is witty and articulate, and balks at the notion that the rich have no problems. She, along with S.I. Newhouse IV and Josiah Hornblower, appear to be the most well-adjusted of the bunch. They have contemplated the bizarreness of their lives, and seem to be aware of the trappings of decadence and materialism. (Newhouse chose to live in a shared college dorm instead of his father's plush Manhattan penthouse.) These three have no pretenses: they are just young adults with big bank accounts and huge legacies to fulfill.

The film is very short - barely over an hour - and Johnson doesn't attempt to delve into the more meaty issues characterizing the class war. He simply turns the camera on his friends, and allows them to expose the classism on their own. Some seem refreshingly average, others troubled, others spoiled, arrogant and mean. But they are all human, and face the same struggle for self-identity as anyone else.

This is why it is extremely important to remain thoughtful and open-minded while watching, and not to categorize all super-rich as "elitist snobs," or naysayers of the rich as "jealous." If you have such pre-formed opinions, you will find little here to change your mind or encourage you to think deeper. Still, every viewer will have a strong reaction to the film in some way, because inherited wealth is at odds with the capitalist principle of worth by way of achievement. That idea will undoubtedly rankle you, regardless of sympathies.

It took enormous chutzpah for Johnson to make this film. Though it is unlikely to change high society's hush-hush attitudes about wealth, or the public's reaction to class clash, this film is a daring experiment and (hopefully) a promising start to a great film-making career.

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