Sunday, January 27, 2013

Documentary Review: The Queen of Versailles

Directed by Lauren Greenfield

Featuring David Siegel and Jacqueline Siegel

Running Time 100 minutes

When director Lauren Greenfield began her documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” in 2007, she intended to record the construction of the biggest home in America, funded by Westgate timeshare mogul David Siegel and his trophy wife, Jackie.

The first part of the film is flecked with absurd and impossible-to-relate-to images of the 90,000 square foot French-chateau-style Orlando mansion, affectionately nicknamed Versailles, where the couple and their eight children planned to host lavish balls, attend the theater, play baseball, and oh, live.

But when the housing crisis hit in 2008, the film took an unpredictable and humbling turn, transforming into a story that resonates with households across America. Greenfield brilliantly and candidly illustrates how no one, not even the one percent, is immune to the devastating effects of a national market crash.

The documentary presents Jackie, the 40-something former Miss Florida, as a shopaholic mom who’s lost touch with reality. She reigns over her children and pets from afar. Her live-in nannies take care of both. Despite her airy personality and R rated cleavage, Jackie’s loyalty to her husband, for richer or poorer, is endearing.

It’s also painfully tragic. To David, his wife is just like any other designer accessory he owns: beautiful, but replaceable. 31 years her senior, David regularly jokes he’ll trade in Jackie for two 20-year-olds.

One evening she asks her husband, “Why are you in a bad mood?” The camera catches Jackie peeking through the den door, like one of the kids.

“Maybe this month I won’t pay the electricity bill,” he responds, upset the front door was left open. “When they shut off the lights you’ll appreciate the electricity.” One of his daughters enters. David doesn't turn to her as she speaks.

The close ups of his haggard face and the long shots of a room flooded with unnecessary clutter, show that money presses on this self-made billionaire’s mind. Almost overnight, his American Dream turns into the American Nightmare as he watches his company crumble.

He lets 7,000 Westgate employees go and cuts his staff at home in two. David’s financial problems speak loudly to the harsh realities of America’s unemployed. 

Greenfield paints a sympathetic, though satirical portrait of a financially overextended family trying to stay afloat. Minus the limos and $17,000 Gucci crocodile boots, it’s a tale that speaks volumes to the American public.   

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