It’s hard to say exactly whom writer-director Kevin Asch is trying to warn with Affluenza, a teen drama about wealthy Hampton-ites that engages in more than a little virtuous tut-tutting. Is he cautioning a younger generation, in danger of taking their privilege for granted? Or, as suggested by a businessman who berates photographer and sometime weed dealer Fisher (Ben Rosenfield) in the opening scene, their laissez-faire parents? Or is the audience simply being warned away from types like Fisher’s host for the summer, a manic uncle played by Steve Guttenberg whose off-putting pencil mustache alone makes him a dubious role model?
Whoever it’s aimed at, the film is more focused on lamenting American culture than correcting it. Affluenza is set in 2008 on the cusp of the financial collapse, and is filled with musings about the hypocrisy of government bailouts. Which is okay, because neither Fisher, nor anyone else here, is very engaged—he and his cousin, Kate (Nicola Peltz), waltz out to parties, listen to hip music, and smoke weed by a pool that, as Fisher’s aunt (Samantha Mathis) is quick to point out, nobody actually swims in. They’re not the most sympathetic kids, but as the title indicates, they’re more frequently guilty of apathy than actual bad behavior.
A similar mode of indifference must be adopted to enjoy the film, which comes off like a slightly more realistic (read: less exciting) version of Gossip Girl, a comparison encouraged by Rosenfield’s Penn Badgley-esque jawline. There’s a mawkish third act full of grave consequences, but ultimately, the film is dragged down by its awkwardly paradoxical story, which tries too hard to care too little.