In these contentious times, during which the “99 percent” seem to have no use for the “1 percent” — and vice versa — it’s tempting to prepare for The Queen of Versailles by polishing a bayonet and rehearsing the line, “Off with their heads!” The stars of this documentary are, after all, a filthy-rich husband and wife in the process of building the world’s largest vanity project, a 90,000-square-foot private home in Orlando, Florida. This monument to excess is rising up within shouting distance of that mecca of the common people, Disney World. Billionaire businessman David Siegel and his trophy wife, Jaqueline, liked what they saw in France and decided to recreate the famed French palace as their very own American dream home.
During the course of the film, we learn how David got rich in the timeshare business, which often involves selling pricey apartments to regular folks who don’t have much cash. We also listen to David boast that it was his influence that got George Bush elected in 2000. So the irony was heavy when Bush policies later contributed to the financial crisis that now threatens Siegel’s two Xanadus — his unfinished mansion in Florida, and Westgate Resorts, a timeshare high-rise in Las Vegas — because Siegel cannot raise enough cash.
So yes, it’s tempting to snicker when things go sour for the Siegels. Except … it’s not that simple. Director Lauren Greenfield dampens our glee by demonstrating that the Siegels, tacky as they might be, are not all that different from the rest of us. They both come from modest backgrounds, and David is nothing if not hard-working. When his (admittedly grandiose) dreams begin to fade, he is philosophical and maintains a sense of humor. He wants his kids, all eight of them, to turn off the damned lights when they leave a room.
Meanwhile, wife Jackie is a compulsive shopper who, according to her husband, is in reality the ninth child in his household. Former model Jackie means well, but seems clueless about her effect on others.
Watching this film, I was reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line in The Great Gatsby, in which he describes Tom and Daisy, a privileged pair who are not intentionally destructive:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Grade: B+
Director: Lauren Greenfield Featuring: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel, Virginia Nebab Release: 2012
Watch the Trailer (click here)
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