Originally designed to be a look into the lives of the 1%, The Queen of Versailles became something much more fascinating when its subjects fell on hard times. At the outset, David Siegel and his wife Jackie were on top of the world. David, the head honcho for Westgate Resorts, the largest time share company in the world, was worth billions of dollars and Jackie enjoyed spending it. They were in the process of building a 90,000 square foot house that was to be a replica of the Palace of Versailles. But shortly after the filming of this documentary began, the economy crashed and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield became much more interested in how these people would adapt to a more restrained life style (as it were). First off, The Queen of Versailles is fascinating from beginning to end so you might consider putting away your computer now and just pulling it up on Netflix. It is as straightforward as documentaries come (a quality I greatly appreciate) and personally, I think the way Greenfield presents her subjects is perfect. She seems perfectly content with letting the Siegels hang themselves and likewise allows the viewer to form his/her own opinion about the subjects rather than forcing the narrative in a certain direction. It is a remarkable story and even more remarkable that the Siegels allowed the cameras to keep rolling after their fortunes turned. As such, I felt like the film comes across with much more humanity than I expected and I actually felt some sympathy for the family (at least for Jackie and the kids; David is a miserable jackass who deserves any misfortune that has or will befall him). That’s a rather remarkable feeling, really, given how far the Siegels go out of their way (albeit unintentionally) to make themselves unlikable.
At the time that construction began on their palace, the family was living in a 26,000 square foot house. Obviously these digs weren’t enough, since they needed a home with 17 bathrooms, a basement ice skating rink, and a baseball field that doubled as a parking lot for their many galas. So they began the replication of Versailles, a home that was only half-way finished when the recession hit and looks like something created in a VHX room for a post-apocalyptic blockbuster. The scenes shot inside the would-be palace are downright eerie. In an early shot, Greenfield asks Siegel why he was building such a huge house and his response is simply, “Because I can.”
But the most intriguing aspect of The Queen of Versailles is the difference between David and Jackie when it comes to handling their new lifestyle. David becomes almost unresponsive, sliding more and more into depression to the point that I wondered if the film might end with his funeral. He is destroyed by his loss of status and cannot accept that his own stubbornness has led him to this point. He shuts down and becomes very embittered toward Jackie, their eight kids, and just about everyone else. Jackie, meanwhile, fluctuates between feeling the grips of their lesser means and pretending that nothing has changed. She tells her kids that they might actually have to, you know, go to college and find a job someday in one scene and then employs a limo for her trip to McDonald’s. She worries that the family may not be able to stay in their present home (let alone move to the palace) and then asks an Enterprise rental agent why her economy class car doesn’t come equipped with a driver. She cuts the household staff down from 19 (19!!!) to four but then goes on a Wal-Mart shopping spree that requires four cart loads of stuff, including a bike that is LITERALLY stacked on top of a collection of I would guess 50 unused bikes in the family’s garage. This is a woman who has lost touch with reality and that in and of itself makes The Queen of Versailles an engrossing viewing that I would recommend to just about anyone.
The Queen of Versailles Director: Lauren Greenfield Cast: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel, Virginia Nebab Rated: PG (some mild language, the horrific sight of seeing Jackie receive botox) Recommended For: Anyone who isn’t a member of the Siegel family