Movie review: 'The Queen of Versailles' -- 3.5 stars
The Queen of Versailles
Documentary by Lauren Greenfield
In this Occupy Wall Street era of increasingly polarized class divisions, with the gap between rich and poor seemingly wider than it has been in years, there's not much inherent sympathy for timeshare king David Siegel, of Westgate Resorts, and his wife Jackie, who are building a 90,000 square-foot mansion in Windermere, Fla.
The Siegels' dream house, which they've dubbed "Versailles," isn't your everyday palace, even for the upper tier of the one-percent. It's slated to include 13 bedrooms, 10 kitchens, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a roller skating rink and a 20-car garage. The home and the family building it are also the fascinating subjects of "The Queen of Versailles," a new documentary from Lauren Greenfield.
As recession-era fare, the Siegels' story is a delicious conduit for populist outrage, and Greenfield delivers on the promise. Shot from 2007-10, the doc offers a fly-on-the-wall look at the family of 10, plus their countless maids and white dogs, and their incomprehensibly privileged existence.
Unless you're Bill Gates, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or another billionaire, your jaw will be rooted to the floor as scenes of astounding, clueless opulence unfold onscreen. On one level, Greenfield's portrait of the Siegels has the same appeal as a National Geographic feature or a Travel Channel program -- it's an exploration of a world that's totally unfamiliar to most of us. To paraphrase the British poet Thomas Gray, these are the short and simple annals of the rich.
The movie takes a turn, though, when the economy crashes in 2008 and the mortgage crisis hammers Westgate's Las Vegas property. The Siegels don't exactly turn into penny-pinching paupers, but they're suddenly faced with familiar economic worries, albeit on a much less drastic scale.
As David is consumed by business concerns, Jackie grapples with cutbacks and construction on Versailles is suspended, the movie transforms from a gently mocking portrait of exorbitance into a sympathetic depiction of a family struggling with their own version of what most of us have gone through over these past years.
Put another way, Greenfield achieves the impressive feat of turning 90,000 sqaure-feet of ambition into a heartfelt, relatable story of Americans facing the downside of the American Dream.