Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why See This...The Queen of Versailles [2012]

Before seeing The Queen of Versailles in theaters, I literally knew nothing about the movie, nothing about the infamous Siegel family, and nothing about Versailles (that last part’s not true).  By its title alone, I assumed the movie would be some sort of period piece drama, probably starring Kiera Knightley as one of King Louis XIV’s wives.  But as I glanced at the enormous poster before stepping inside the theater, I knew right then that my assumption was far off.  Worse, I feared that my mom dragged to some sort of Cougar Town movie spin-off.  Thankfully, that was wrong too.

The Queen of Versailles is a sort of quasi-documentary, though not quite a mocumentary. There is no narrator, but the characters, completely aware of the filming, speak directly to the camera.  In the spirit of popular TV shows like The Office and Parks & Rec., I figured a movie would soon bank on this trending style.  Our story revolves around the Siegels, David and Jackie Siegel and their eight children.  They are beyond far beyond any notion of the term. Don Siegel is the founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world.  The film counts his success showing pictures of David with celebrity faces like Donald Trump, George Clooney, all the 50 Miss America representatives, and oh yeah, he claims his money got George Bush elected to office.  What makes these 1%-ers such a sight is the fact that they are in process of building the largest single family home in America- thirteen bedrooms, twenty-three bathrooms, three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a twenty car garage.  When asked why, Don simply retorts, “Because I can.” 

Although David is the one who amassed this such a fortune, he is not the Queen this story revolves around.  That would be his third wife, Jacqueline Siegel.   Jackie is the epitome of a trophy wife.  If David is in his early 70s, Jackie must be around 40, though she hides that number very well behind a fake tan, platinum blond hair and enormous breasts always on display to the camera. Her lifestyle is nothing short of a trip and her spending habits, far beyond anything imaginable.  But to compare her with those other women from The Real Housewives of Whatever would be off point.  Yes she is richer than anyone you have ever met or seen on TV, but Jackie’s small town roots never seemed to leave her in favor of a snotty elitism attitude.  Despite this complete lack of understanding of how the rest of the world functions, you can always tell she means well in everything she does. Ignorance is bliss and I guess so is having $500 million dollars.

What is funding their Versailles look-a-like mansion and Jackie’s weekly tans is Westgate’s new multi-million dollar high rise resort located right smack-dab on the Las Vegas strip.  It is just another hundred million dollar investment, like any of the other Westgate resorts around the world.  Things are looking good on the investment until the economic collapse of 2007 changes everything.  Westgate, behind  millions of dollars on cheap loans, can no longer continue with their Vegas resort and the project ceases construction.  Even worse, the Siegel’s mansion is also put on halt, only halfway done.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and banks breathing down his neck, David quickly becomes the everyman fighting to keep his business, saving everywhere he can; only he needs $250 million dollars to do so.  But an economic crisis is nothing to Jackie.  When told to cut her spending habits, Jackie demotes herself to lowly aisles of Wal-Mart, still managing to fill four shopping carts with useless Christmas toys. 

It is a riches-to-rags story as David says. Their story makes it very hard to feel bad for someone who had all this money and carelessly threw it away on cheap loans, disregarding the consequences.  Do we hate these people with a gluttonous "this is what you get" type of reprisal? If I read their story in a newspaper, this is precisely how I'd felt. But the movie makes you seconds guess your spite. Spending time with the Siegels through better and through worse, it’s hard to come to that feeling.  Struggle has a humanizing effect on people and in this case, it helps achieve a bit sympathy for the Siegels, though it is bitter.  No we don’t hate them, we just hate how they live, and we thank God that someone could record this outlandish story on camera.  It’s not reality TV, it is something far beyond and much, much  better.  


  1. Yep, your review is exactly why I liked the film so much. The reading about the story in a newspaper notion was really true. Had I heard just a little about this family, I would've had them pegged all wrong.

    The doc really lets some of their emotions and complexities shine through. This is definitely not reality TV haha.

  2. Thanks. I was definitely surprised at how much sympathy there was for the Siegels at the end- Greenfield did a good job with that.