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Friday, 17 August 2012 00:00

'The Queen of Versailles' boasts indulgent excess

allmoviephoto.com allmoviephoto.com
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Lauren Greenfield
  • Dates: Opens August 10, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “The rich are different from you and me.” Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles about billionaires Jackie and David Siegel proves the multitude of ways. It’s not an attractive portrayal; but with the indulgence on display, that would prove very difficult.

In scenes shot in 2007, the Siegels have begun work on what would be the largest single-family residence in the U.S. at 90,000 square feet. Impacted by the 2008 crisis, the mansion, called Versailles and modeled after the famous French palace, goes on the sales block for $75 million as David Siegel’s Westgate Resorts timeshare fortune declines. Charting the situation, the film fills in 74-year-old David’s story: Jackie his third wife, David’s claim that perhaps through illegal activity he got George W. elected, his 24-7 work obsession, his fight to rescue his business. Thirty-one years younger than David, Jackie came from Binghamton, earned an engineering degree, has seven birth children with David, and an apparent love of low cut dresses and her four dogs. And we learn about the business employees’ hard-sell tactics, apparently to people who can ill afford the cost.

 

By contrast, indulgent excess barely suggests the Siegels’ billionaire lifestyle before 2008. Despite humble origins, with no apparent self-awareness Jackie notes that she easily spent $1 million a year on her clothes. At another point, looking at the marble from China warehoused for their mansion, she comments, “That’s what $5 million in marble looks like,” and blithely moves on. After finances get tight, she still can’t resist filling to overflowing at least five shopping carts at Wal-Mart. One of the remaining four of 19 previous staff takes a bicycle into the garage where there are at least another dozen strewn about.

 

As counterpoint, Filipino nanny Virginia Nebel expresses her delight to get to reside in the children’s one-room, abandoned playhouse. Virginia tells a heartbreaking story about her recently deceased father and son that she hasn’t seen in 19 years. This highlights the Siegels’ persistent lack of perspective, coming across as incredibly narcissistic, though Jackie clearly does care about David.

He has filed a lawsuit against producer/director Greenfield protesting several aspects of the film. The Queen of Versailles does take some cheap shots, it doesn’t flow well from scene to scene, it’s not well composed, and the music intrudes. Despite its many technical imperfections, the subject makes it fascinating to watch. At a Landmark Theatre.
 

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