Lauren Greenfield’s latest documentary (following her 2006 bulimia/anorexia doc, Thin) is a divine character study of one of the richest couples in America – billionaires David and Jackie Siegel – and their family’s plummet from wealth after the 2008 economic collapse. The Siegels are flawed, overly zealous in their unrealistic desires, yet incredibly fascinating all the same. The beginning of the film illustrates the family’s latest venture of building the largest estate in America, a “family home” that mirrors the structural look and artistic design of the Palace of Versailles in France. Jackie Siegel, who seems like she’d be right at home on an episode of Bravo’s The Real Housewives, is the main proponent of this massive undertaking. She’s a trophy wife who spends money without mercy and never settles for what she already has. Every day brings Jackie a new feeling of urgency to expand her wealth, her esteem and her reach over her husband’s finances. However, in some incredibly bizarre way that almost seems unjustifiable, we somehow sympathize with Jackie, especially when the economic crash destroys any chance of completing her 90,000 square ft. dream castle of Versailles.
Why do I sympathize with such a self-absorbed, financially obsessed woman? I guess it all goes back to my admiration of the pursuance of “The American Dream.” David Siegel, billionaire real estate mogul who owns one of the largest timeshare companies on earth (Westgate Resorts) has worked hard all his life to earn the over-the-top lifestyle he’s been accustomed to for decades. Even Jackie Siegel moved out of her lower class neighborhood to better herself in the world. She graduated from college and afterwards became a full time model to pay her bills. After leaving behind an abusive relationship with her first husband, she met David Siegel – 30 years her senior – and the two somehow found solace in one another. You can call Jackie a gold digger and David a trophy wife acquirer, but what you can’t say is that these two fascinating individuals didn’t work their tails off to reach the threshold of America’s financial elite. That proven hard work that both had put into life so diligently is why I’ll never be able to truly despise or even slightly dislike either of them. If there’s a fault to this film, it’s that Greenfield sometimes doesn’t recognize the pair’s hard work and only edits them at their clumsiest or most offensive, with Jackie getting the ultimate treatment of embarrassment.
From the get-go, there is this humorous bubble surrounding the project that almost makes it hard to believe Greenwood has no direct affect on what the Siegels say or do. However, the further along The Queen of Versailles progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that the Siegels beat to their own drum, and won’t change for anyone — the judgmental viewing public included. Jackie is incapable of ceasing her addictive spending habits, and unfortunately David doesn’t quite stand up to her until it’s too late. I get the sense that Jackie uses spending as a means of coping with dilemmas– the more she spends and buys, the more she can outwardly feel wealthy despite the reality of her less-than-fortunate situation. David’s transition from the film is perhaps the most tragic of all. Without giving too much away, it pains you to see such a hard-working, brilliant man at the age of 74 be whittled down to such a low point in his life. With the collapse of the economy threatening to close up his head Westgate building in Las Vegas for good, David Siegel has far more to worry about than his wife’s extravagant living standards. Unfortunately, Jackie and the Siegel children never seem to satiate their happiness, adding double the stress to David’s already hectic world by spending hundreds and thousands of dollars each day on needless merchandise. These moments test our viewing endurance, but they are more powerful because of their stressful impact.
What is so profound about The Queen of Versailles is that it doesn’t excuse the mistakes the Siegels make, but neither does it demonize their personage. They may have more money than we can even count to in our heads, but their story mirrors the millions of stories where the collapse of the economy tarnished the financial stability of most every American. However, when you are all the way at the top, you’ll have further to fall than anyone else when things give way underneath. No statement was ever given a better example than the Siegel family. With sharp edits, terrific interviews, and documentary filmmaking on a grand scale that perfectly captures the grandiosity of the Siegel’s domestic universe, Greenwood presents American paranoia at its most heightened. The Queen of Versailles is a “riches to rags” slice of life that anyone should seek out for wisdom and human understanding. This documentary is certainly one to watch out for come Oscar™ time. I believe it could elicit quite a response from the esteemed Academy™.
Leave a Comment
No comments yet.