The Queen of Versailles
Dir: Lauren Greenfield
Starring: Jackie Siegel and David Siegel
Documentary offers rich insight into life of overindulgence
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS~ 8/29/2012
There is an interesting, if slightly disturbing, answer to a question concerning why time-share billionaire David Siegel is building a home, largest in America, influenced by the palace of Versailles; the answer given is “because I can”. The comment sums up the ideal that is the basis for the accidental riches to rags documentary from filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. The super sized American dream that is directly and devastatingly impacted by the reality of a shifting economy. The documentary serves as a lofty metaphor for the mentality that influenced a societies struggle between wants and needs.
David Siegel is sitting on a golden throne at the beginning of the film, his beauty queen wife Jackie at his side. David amassed his fortune through his company Westgate Resorts, a high-end time-share company that sells luxury to buyers who probably can’t afford them in the first place. David is building a 90,000 square foot home all while expanding his empire with numerous properties around the country, one of which is located on the Las Vegas strip, when the economy crashes. David downsizes his company, then downsizes again, before he knows it the banks are threatening foreclosure and begin to move in on his personal assets.
Jackie Siegel has a different story. She’s a college graduate who worked at IBM but decided to pursue a dream of being a model. After winning a beauty competition she married and divorced before finally settling down with David Siegel. Jackie is clueless and naïve most of the time, a woman spoiled by wealth; yet there is still a sense of vulnerability after the extravagances of her life are taken away.
David is arrogant, a man who’s world revolves around money and nothing else; the relationship with his older son is nonexistent even though he works for David. Jackie is caring and compassionate to her children and friends, but is also aloof to the world the rest the population lives in. It’s quite interesting to see how people who live outside the realms of what many would categorize as reality handle an uncompromising encounter with reality.
Director Lauren Greenfield does a great job of offering unflinching depth; a difficult task considering the family is experiencing so much change. This is demonstrated in an unnerving scene at the dinner table for David’s birthday that displays a breaking family dynamic, it’s disheartening. There are some accidental astute musings from Jackie and David, whether it’s the realization of how the rest of the world operates or the recognition of how the economy actually works. There are times when pity and empathy are overwhelmingly forced; these are people losing their money but they ultimately understood the risk involved and still manipulated the system. It’s a fine line to walk and there are glaring moments when the film loses track of how to treat the Siegel family.
Greenfield also makes a point to gain perspective from the staff that works for the Siegels; an aspect that offers an insightful contrast. These workers have nothing yet work for people who have everything. Many of these workers are minorities who came from poverty stricken parts of the world. They are working for the American dream as well, but in the most simplistic of terms which is working for a better life that isn’t levied by dollar signs. It’s inspiring.
In The Queen of Versailles the examination of the riches to rags mentality seems heavy handed and, at times, undeserving of compassion. Though their “standard of living” offers much to criticize, there is also humanity that lingers within the seams. These are damaged people who lived by a mentality much of society was guilty of influencing; namely a lifestyle of over indulgence and instant gratification. Though the economic problems with the world changed this family, specifically with them losing the means and elegance associated with disposable riches, they are still victims…though it’s hard to empathize with them in the end.
3.50 out of 5.00