Review: The Queen of Versailles
Imagine being able to stand on your back porch and watch the fireworks from Disney World every day of the week. The happiest place on earth is within sight of your backyard. Add to this dream; a porch that is attached to a 90,000-square-foot home with ten kitchens (including one specifically for sushi) and over thirty bathrooms. The design for this house is modeled after the palace at Versailles.
It was supposed to be the largest home in America. It had the quiet subtlety of Las Vegas on steroids. It was to be the dream home of David and Jackie Siegel; a powerful timeshare mogul and his beauty queen wife. Unfortunately the 2008 financial crisis halted their plans and left them with a half-finished $100 million dollar reminder of better days. This is the backdrop of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles.
At the beginning of the film we are introduced to the Siegels, their seven kids, nannies, pets and lavish lifestyle. Life was good, private jet good. It is intriguing to watch David and Jackie who both come from humble origins dream big and spend even bigger. Jackie was the former Mrs. Florida who never lost her pageant smile and David was the man who according to himself was responsible for getting a president elected. Thirty years separate the two but they feel made for one another.
When the crash happens the film takes a pivotal turn. An extreme event that creates a dynamic narrative shift that would be in all essence a documentary film maker’s wet dream. It provides the essential act II that gives this story gravitas. Up until this point, it feels like you are watching some sort of weird version of real estate-porn. (If you’ve ever watched Selling New York you know what I’m talking about.) The crash becomes a scenario that will both test and further define our characters. David begins to retreat into himself trying to find a way to fix his empire while Jackie shops.
The relationship the two shares is at the heart of this film and is what carries it forward even as the financial stress starts to show. Lauren Greenfield does a wonderful job of balancing subjectivity and narrative as you watch a family start to unravel. The Queen of Versailles never feels exploitive or like it is thumbing its nose at the ruin of one of the 1%. Over the course of the film we have grown to like these people and can see in them a reflection of the battered economy that we all share. Financial crisis has broken stronger families than the one pictured here but hopefully Jackie’s never wavering smile can lead them back to the happiest place on earth, just over the hedge.