[Review] – The Queen Of Versailles

13 Aug

Title: The Queen Of Versailles
Year: 2012
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Writer: –
Starring: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel
MPAA Rating: PG, thematic elements and language
Runtime: 100 min
IMDb Rating: 5.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 80

I remember hearing a lot about this documentary when the word out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Directing Award, got out. And I was really intrigued as to what it was that made it so celebrated by many at the festival. The Queen of Versailles documented the life of the billionaire Siegel family, as in the one of David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, as they plan to build themselves the second-largest and most-expensive single-family house in America, a 90,ooo square-foot mansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles. But just as they’re beginning construction, the U.S. economy plummets and they must face a real crisis.

The result is actually truly spectacular, you get this truly character-driven storyline with these two people front and center, Mr. Siegel and his wife, Jackie, that are just totally unique characters and that get the movie going along super smoothly. You get to see their huge empire, which was dependent on the real estate bubble and cheap money, start going under just as they were planning their most exuberant display of wealth, and you get to see them deal with this huge economic crisis, and see how it influences their character and lifestyle. It’s a story that displays what’s so great and what’s so bad about the very nature of the American Dream.

I was just totally impressed by what we got here. It’s undoubtedly one of the very best documentaries of the year, one that’s obviously super timely and that has these really rich, and richly-explored characters that will just keep you glued to it, while experiencing at the same time both some kind of guilty pleasure in seeing these people fail as well as some pity and compassion as you see them do just that. I mean, these are people with values that you just have to totally disagree with here, and so seeing them fail gives you some kind of satisfaction, but at the same time you’re just endeared to them and totally entranced by their plight. This compelling stuff, no matter what you might otherwise think going into it.

I just seriously recommend that you seek this one out, to see for yourselves just how infinitely watchable this film is, to see just how it’s unlike anything you could have been expected and how it gets to be so nuanced and have a pathos that you never could anticipate it to posses. It’s just a fascinating story to see this guy who started Westgate Resorts out of his garage and has now made it into the largest time-share company in the world, with annual revenues of close to $1 billion. And then you have Jackie, his third wife, who yes, looks and acts every bit as much as the trophy wife you would expect her to be, but she too came from a humble environment, and worked hard to get an engineering degree.

So it’s really a rags-to-riches story, with the drama being that they may go back to the rags as the recession hits and David’s empire starts crumbling because it subsists on the exact same things the crisis would make unavailable. You just could never expect to be as affected by this story as I promise you will be, and you really have to give huge props to director Lauren Greenfield for so cleverly orchestrating this whole thing.

When David and Jackie speak to us you do go “ugh” as you’d expect after seeing them go for fast food in limo’s or watching Jackie doing a tour of her huge new home while it was under construction and, when asked if the huge place they were standing in was her room, answering “no, it’s my closet”. You do get infuriated because the business that’s making them so damn wealthy is pretty much based off the concept of getting people to spend money on vacations they can’t really afford. And yet when you get to know them, you somehow end up liking them a bit, because they seem super honest, they seem super hard-working, and they really do believe in what they do and don’t seem to be at all hypocritical about it.

That’s probably what surprised me the most while I watched The Queen of Versailles, that the tiniest bit of me liked them. Or, maybe not liked them, but I had definitely gone into the film expecting to hate them, and I didn’t. Once you get to know them, especially Jackie who is ten times better than any of the sitcom characters that are based off people just like her, you’ll realize that you really can’t hate them. I mean, yes, they spend the money they have gotten out of scamming people (though honestly and legally) in things that they seriously don’t need, and you can be mad at them for that, but you can’t really hate them once you know them.

I really loved the hell out of this documentary, it certainly stands as one of the very best this whole year has given us and one that I’ll no doubt recommend like crazy. The ironies that start piling up on the lives of the Siegel’s are just seriously hilarious, and when Ms. Greenfield shows you the extravagance of their lifestyle pre-crisis it really does seem like it was that extravagant and it wasn’t exaggerated for the cameras. This is a film that has all the guilty pleasures of reality television, but at the same time all the best stuff that you would expect from the writers of a great cable comedy, not only because Jackie just says the most ridiculously funny things, but because there’s something deeper to them, which is just surprising as hell, stuff that reinforces the notion that the rich and the poor aren’t that different.

Lauren Greenfield has crafted a tremendous film here, never once feeling as though she was mocking Jackie, but really showing her and her husband as two human beings with real human qualities who are, in essence, chasing after the American Dream (though, granted, their version of an American Dream consists of reconstructing a French Palace). But this is just great, a truly fantastic look into an unbelievable-yet-true story with really rich characters that you’ll actually want to spend even more time with.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – The Queen Of Versailles”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies August 15, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    I really want to see this one. That’s quite the gap between IMDB and RT scores, too.

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