Synopsis: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on a mansion inspired by Versailles. During the next two years, their empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis.
Stars: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Running Length: 100 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: For me, the best kinds of documentaries are those that just tell the story. If you remove all the flash and pizzaz, innovative editing, and smug sense of satisfaction that many popular docs rely on, is there a truly interesting story underneath? In the case of The Queen of Versailles there most certainly is…interesting and quite fascinating as it charts one family from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
It begins innocently enough… as a documentary on the Siegel’s attempt to recreate the palace of Versailles in a 100 room behemoth in Orlando, Florida. But this is to be no theme park attraction to rival the nearby Disney resorts, this was to be a residential home when it was conceptualized and construction was started at the height of a financial boom.
David Siegel was the ‘timeshare king’ until the financial crisis destroyed his business and investment properties. Some bad decisions that began their lives as good business savvy are all it took to bring down his empire. Pride keeps Siegel from declaring bankruptcy and as the days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months without a lifeline in sight the despair grows steadily.
Were David Siegel the main focus of the film I’m not sure that it would have been made or distributed and it’s thanks to director Greenfield’s keen eye for the real star of the show that such a strong film has been delivered. With some amazing access throughout this ongoing ordeal, Greenfield works some cinematic magic by letting us see the action through the eyes of Jacqueline Siegel, the matriarch and titular “Queen” of Versailles.
If you are one to judge a book by its cover, you may write off Jackie as one of the new batches of Real Housewives. With some large assets that would make Dolly Parton drool, Jackie could easily have been someone you can’t relate to or sympathize with. However, as we get to know her and see how she interacts with her family we begin to see that she’s just a wife and mother like so many trying to stay afloat.
OK…so some of the spending we witness is a bit over-the-top. A trip to Wal-Mart had me covering my eyes as the financially strapped lady of the house heaped piles of toys and clothes into multiple shopping carts. The point was driven home further when one of the housekeepers wheels a brand new bike into a garage that is piled high with bikes already. The Siegels have a large family to be sure but who needs all of those bikes! I notice one thing about the purchases, though; hardly anything bought was for her.
Clearly a smart cookie that was no gold digger, Jackie’s marriage is tested but not broken over the course of the film. Some reviews have described David as being the villain of the picture but I found him to be less a villain and more outwitted by an already flawed system. Things are rosy when they are plush with money but when the bottom drops out the tensions rise. What family/marriage wouldn’t suffer the same consequences?
I was really taken with Jackie for the duration of the documentary. If ever a case could be made for someone to have their own reality show…look no further than her. There is an element of putting up appearances in the Siegel household but we still can see the cracks through all of the shimmer. I’d be quite interested in seeing what happens next for them (and I’ve heard things are on the upswing!)…and what Versailles looks like if/when it’s completed. @JackieSiegelusa if you’re reading this, can I stop by for a visit?
Greenfield has crafted an engaging documentary that pulls you in from the get-go and keeps interest high. Peeking behind the closed doors of the rich and famous has always been a favorite American pastime but it’s getting the chance to see into the private rooms normally closed off that makes the film especially a treat.