Thursday, August 2, 2012
Director Lauren Greenfield struck documentary gold when she started filming the Siegel family in 2007. At that time, the billionaire couple was constructing their dream home, a 90,000-square-foot house with 30 bathrooms and 10 kitchens modeled after France’s Versailles. While witnessing the construction of this monster home, which would have been the largest single family house in the country, would have surely been entertaining, the collapse of the economy in 2008 and how the Siegels are affected by the downturn transform this film into something far more resonant with the rest of us.
The Queen of Versailles begins by introducing us to David and Jackie Siegel and their eight children. David is the founder of Westgate Resorts, a time-share company that has raked in billions of dollars. On camera, David claims that he is the reason George W. Bush became president in 2000. When asked how he assisted, David responds, “I’d rather not say, because it may not have necessarily been legal.” (There you go, political conspiracy enthusiasts.)
His wife Jackie is a former model and one-time Mrs. Florida who grew up in a modest home and was an engineer at one time. Though the camera sweeps past ridiculous family portraits including one where David is portrayed as a European king cloaked in a robe, the Siegels – especially Jackie – emerge as relatable people except in one scene where she asks a Hertz rental car employee what her driver’s name will be.
As the economy tanks, David’s company is unable to get the “easy money” from the bank that had sustained his company. People are let go. Westgate’s new Las Vegas tower becomes an albatross around the company’s neck, dragging it down. And the Siegels’ half-constructed Versailles dream house becomes a symbol of the faltering American Dream.
The Siegels attempt to adapt to the circumstances even though Jackie goes on over-the-top shopping sprees at places like Walmart. Meanwhile, David holes up in a cramped, document-strewn room in his home trying to find a way for his company to get out of its hole. And after the Siegels let go of most of their housekeeping staff, Greenfield’s camera lingers on mounds of dog poop littering the floors of the family’s home.
With incredible access, Greenfield, who directed the anorexia and bulimia documentary Thin in 2006, details various Siegel family members confiding to the camera painful realizations about their unraveling family. It proves that the financial crisis affects everybody, no matter what gilded gate you live behind.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (3½) • Directed by Lauren Greenfield • Starring David Siegel and Jackie Siegel • Rated PG • 100 min. • At Osio Cinemas.