Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Queen of Versailles


There’s a telling moment midway through Lauren Greenfield’s shocking, evolved new documentary, The Queen of Versailles, which perfectly sums up everything you need to know about the film’s star subject.

Jackie Siegel, who modeled for millions, was crowned Ms. Florida, and became a billionaire heiress (billionheiress…?) all before the age of 30, decides to go on a Christmas shopping spree for her eight children. By this point in the film, Jackie, or rather her husband, David, has lost the majority of his net worth. David has instructed her repeatedly to cut the spending, but spend she does. By the end of her Wal-Mart excursion, Jackie has (at least) four shopping carts full of games, toys, candies and other various holiday assortments.


The moment comes soon after Jackie arrives back home. Two maids engage in a hushed conversation as they help unload the car. One asks who the new bike is for. The oldest son, the other maid says. Problem is, the bike is far too small for the boy. Knowing this, the maid slowly wheels the bike into the massive garage, passing at least a dozen other spotless bicycles of various sizes on the way.

Even at her financial worst, the woman with everything only wants more.
I thought The Queen of Versailles was going to be a rags to riches story about a kind, earnest woman married to a billionaire 40 years her senior, enjoying the construction of her 90,000 square foot, Versailles-inspired home in Orlando, Florida. The previews indicated nothing more than Jackie dutifully overseeing the building of her mansion, which, when finished, would be the largest home in the country.

Don’t get me wrong, the film opens with David, who is dubbed “The Timeshare King” at the height of his monetary powers. Why build a house so large, Greenfield asks off screen? “Why?” David replies. “Because I can.” Jackie agrees, so build it they do. But when the economy collapses in the fall of 2008, David and Jackie are hit in crippling ways. David is forced to lay of tens of thousands of employees, Jackie is forced to cook, clean and carry out whatever menial tasks her recently fired 10 maids did before.

I’m making The Queen of Versailles sound like a boo-fucking-hoo tale of self-loathing and failed wealth. It’s not – Greenfield is too smart for that. Instead, the film turns into a genuinely startling examination of eccentric overindulgence. No, the Siegel’s won’t be living on the street anytime soon (or ever), but what the film so expertly unveils is that losing millions is losing millions. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much you start with.

Forgive me, I’ve spent this entire space focusing on one aspect of the picture. I haven’t even mentioned the film’s obvious and unspoken question of whether or not Jackie loves David for his love, or his money. I’ll keep my opinions mine. It’ll be far more worth your while to watch the movie and gauge for yourself. B+

8 comments:

  1. I just read a review of this recently and it's repugnant how these people live in such excess. I mean 10 maids?? I wouldn't know what to do with even one [in my home country it's actually common for middle, even lower class people to have maids] I have nothing against wealth or rich people, but there are those like Warren Buffet who choose to do good for others.

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    1. Yeah, and the film is really good at achieving a balance of, "Oh, these people are vile in their excess," and "Oh, these people are people, too."

      I'm not saying this family doesn't spend a gross amount of money on shit that doesn't matter. But the movie made me care about them far more then I thought I would.

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  2. Great review man. I'd heard of this, but I didn't know what it was about. It sounds interesting. Will have to check it out.

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    1. Thanks dude. It was definitely interesting. A very very worthy doc. I'd venture a prediction that it'll nab an Oscar nom.

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  3. Hadn't even heard of it, great review Alex. Will be keen for this one!

    Oh and that looks like an epic house. After reading your review I really want to know what happens now :D

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    1. It's a really good documentary, for sure. Ever-evolving and not at all what I was expecting. And that house... man, it's just absurd.

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  4. Great review, I am intrigued. There are so many great documentaries coming out this year, getting a lot of attention, and most are very good: I've seen Searching for Sugar Man, and I still have to watch The Imposter, Art of Rap and...the one about sports, that I think won an Oscar- Undefeatable?

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    1. Thanks! This is turning out to be a great year for docs. The Imposter is by far the best film I've seen so far this year (my review will be up soon), Undefeated was one of the best docs I've ever seen (like... ever), and The Art of Rap was so much fun. Good stuff all around!

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