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The Queen of Versailles

2012 | 100 min | PG | 1.85:1

The Queen of Versailles


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Theatrical release date

 20 July, 2012
 07 September, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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The Queen of Versailles Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 19, 2012

David Siegel took the real estate world by storm when he founded Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company based out of Orlando, Florida that quickly grew in stature and profit with its slick sales techniques and luxurious accommodations. Soon spawning multiple properties around America, Westgate blossomed into a billion-dollar business, peaking five years ago when the average vacationer could easily borrow money to purchase their dream getaway. The corporation permitted David a lavish lifestyle, a trophy wife in Jackie, and a family of eight children. The man could buy anything his heart desired, and he did, culminating in the construction of Versailles, a 90,000-square-foot home in Orlando inspired by a vacation to France. In 2007, this cavernous dwelling sounded like a great idea. In 2010, the unfinished domicile came to represent everything that soured in David’s life after the financial collapse of 2008.

What’s immediately striking about the documentary “The Queen of Versailles” is the access director Lauren Greenfield acquired to interview David, Jackie, and their friends and family, who all gladly sit down with the filmmaker to explore the monetary flight of the Westgate Resorts, the construction of Versailles, and the fallout from the infamous Wall Street plunge. Commencing her investigation when the days were sweet for David (who’s initially interviewed while sitting on a golden throne) and Jackie, the movie carefully erects an arc of experience for the family, beginning at the height of their influence (David furtively suggests he helped George W. Bush steal the 2000 Presidential election), when Westgate Resorts landed in Las Vegas, prepared to take over the strip with a beautiful blue building, shoveling money into the corporation’s coffers peeled from tourists swayed into extended timeshare deals they couldn’t afford. Loaded with cash, David had enormous plans for his empire, shared with son Richard and thousands of employees, with Versailles imagined as a towering monument to his wealth, with tennis courts, pools, 30 bathrooms, a baseball field, and endless decorations put on display as a show of power, rationalized by the couple as the realization of the American Dream.

The fantasy life couldn’t last forever, and after 2008, the Siegels were faced with a crushing reality, unable to pull together the kind of cash flow they were used to, which came to weaken Westgate Resorts, resulting in massive firings and missed payments, leaving the business on its knees, with David working around the clock to salvage what morsels were left. That Greenfield was there to document such a drastic “riches to rags” story is amazing, gifting “The Queen of Versailles” with an extraordinary perspective on the life of the couple and their eroding relationship in the face of ruin.

The picture is chilling at times, detailing the fracture at Westgate and the disintegration of the Siegel household as housekeepers were laid off (Jackie admits that she wouldn’t have had so many kids if she knew there wouldn’t be any nannies to take care of them), leaving their home a ghastly mess of spoiled food, animal feces, and general clutter. Greenfield keeps the focus on the absurdity of behavior and routine, studying David and Jackie for cracks in their veneer, hoping to expose a pinhole of vulnerability as the empire comes crashing down around them, introducing new realities for the pair and their kids, a spoiled yet observant bunch who will have to sing for their supper when adulthood hits them like a truck.

While David’s a cantankerous, no-nonsense older man who’s unusually honest about his situation, Jackie is the real jewel of the documentary. A top-heavy blonde with a pageant past, Jackie has grown to love her life in David’s lap, embracing her trophy wife status (30 years separate the couple) with plastic surgery, endless spending, and a general disregard for modesty, permitting the camera to capture a delusion swirling about her that’s riveting, emphasized with shots of ridiculous pictures and paintings that reinforce the household’s extraordinary comfort with ostentation. Jackie’s a Real Housewife in search of her Bravo, trying to come off down-to-earth for the film, but unable to smother her proclivity toward irrational behavior, completely unaware how she appears to the outside world. Jackie Siegel is a gold mine for Greenfield, who wisely keeps attention trained on her to emphasize the delusions in play, reinforcing the true nature of the marriage when the tide turns and David slowly shuts out his family.

Conversations with Filipino caregivers help to illuminate the domestic situation, and there’s a valuable sequence covering the overwhelming sleaziness of the timeshare industry, where Richard openly admits disgust with his customers. Greenfield almost has too much to work with, leaving the film a little bloated near the end when it concentrates on the combative relationship between Jackie and David. Of course, it makes sense to find the director unwilling to walk away from such as a fascinating couple, resulting in a superb documentary and a powerful statement on the ugliness and delusion of greed.

Director: Lauren Greenfield

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