Thursday, January 10, 2013


One of the more celebrated documentaries of the past year was Lauren Greenfield's "THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES", the story of mega-wealthy timeshare magnate David Siegel and his wife Jackie, and their dream of building the United States' largest home in Orlando, FL - right as the recession and real estate crisis of 2008-09 hits and their fortune starts to dwindle away. The Siegels granted Greenfield and her crew first-row access to their lives, which they reportedly regretted once the film had wrapped. It's likely that they'd have felt differently if the riches-to-rags story had been a little more riches-to-more-riches, which is where things were headed until people all of a sudden stopped buying shares in their luxe/trash Westgate properties.

The film is really about Jackie Siegel, though - the middle-class beauty queen who married up (to say the least) and is now running a house with multiple kids and pets in the midst of astronomical wealth. Never did I get the sense that Ms. Siegel was unsympathetic, despite her plastic body and shabby-Florida trash sense of style. In fact, she's highly likeable - a snarky, funny woman who knows very well that she hit the jackpot, even as she makes it very obvious that she's accepted her lot as trophy wife for her jackass of a husband. She's ready to "downsize", if that's what it takes, and will move from a 90,000-sq.-foot home to something more along the lines of 10,000 if she has to.

The house, an utter monstrosity modeled after the Palace of Versailles, is never finished. It looms over the entire movie, and at the end, the Siegels are trying to hang onto it for dear life or at least sell it for something close to what they've invested in it. No takers. Through the turmoil and the worry we follow Jackie around, as she goes shopping, visits her family back east, helps her kids navigate their daily travails, and picks up dog crap in the house.

I'll admit that while I remained marginally interested in the film throughout it, ultimately I thought "The Queen of Versailles" suffered from American reality TV-itis. That's what this felt like - a Bravo show. Like virtually all reality shows, the line between true cinema verite and scripted entertainment fluff in this one tipped too far toward the latter. The scene is which Jackie tries to rent a car at Hertz and asks "Where is my driver?" was preposterously and obviously a scripted set piece. Jackie's not that clueless. She's good at hamming for the camera, and in so doing, the film loses some luster and that critical ingredient for a fly-on-the-wall documentary, "authenticity". I'd see it if the subject matter appeals to you or if you've got a high pain threshold for reality TV; otherwise, go watch the far superior "My Perestroika" or "Ballplayer (Pelotero)" instead