I haven’t seen Keeping of with the Kardasians or The Real Housewives of Anywhere, but I imagine that The Queen of Versailles is one or two steps above them. American, opulent and way overstated, The Queen of Versailles is an anti-Downton Abbey.
This Sundance award winner documents the riches to rags story of the Siegels a nouveau riche couple with 8 children building the biggest house in America. Mr. Siegel made his fortune in the time share business and got caught in the banking scandal of 2008. For most of the film, we see how this couple deals with the downward spiral.
Their goal is to keep the time share dynasty afloat and to stay one step ahead of the bankers, whom David Siegel sees as Shylocks and Jackie compares to vultures. Apparently, they’re blind to the irony. David’s fortune was also built on overselling to customers whose desires outstrip their ability to afford. Still since David really is anguished and is working hard to fix his problem concerned that his 7 children with Jackie will have to actually go to college and train for eventual careers. (I do admit that I was smirking as I wrote that last sentence.)
The family seems to be living in a fog and always has been. Real conversations between them are few and far between. They talk towards each other and deflect a lot of what is said. Everyone ignores the real problems, just as they ignore the dog droppings that are in room after room of their garish mansion.
The most genuine people are Jackie, Victoria, age 14, David’s middle aged son from his first marriage and David. Victoria’s endearing when she goes to bat for her mom, telling her dad that he ought to snap out of his funk for a few minutes for dinner since she and her mother went to the trouble of making it. The subtext is clear. You need to consider us more than the finances and the Shrek movie you’re watching in your man cave.
Interestingly, everyone’s more honest and authentic (as much as these folks can be) when they talk to the documentary maker. Victoria sees that her mom was a trophy wife in this May December relationship. She doesn’t put down either parent for that, but calls it as she sees it.
Jackie has charm and generosity that carry the film. I liked her in spite of myself. Yes, she goes way overboard; yes those boobs must be fake; yes, she needs to get with it and start saving and get her life together, but she’s likable and funny. She gives her high school friend whose suburban track house is in foreclosure $5000. Her comments could win Emmy’s if they came out of the mouths of sitcom characters.
Typically, I’d have nothing but contempt for these sorts of people, but they are just so hopeless and a few are funny, that I sort of like them. This may be wrong-headed, but I blame the system more than the people in this film.
- Why Time-Share King David Siegel Thinks He Got Bush Elected (businessweek.com)
- Review in The Globe and Mail
- Roger Ebert’s Review
- Flash Essay: A Documentary to See: The Queen of Versailles (lenleatherwood.wordpress.com)
- Florida Mogul: I Was ‘Personally Responsible’ For Bush’s 2000 Victory (huffingtonpost.com)
- ‘The Queen of Versailles’ by Lauren Greenfield (movies.nytimes.com)
- Lessons of decadence for 2 distinct Queens of Versailles (indieethos.wordpress.com)
- The Queen of Versailles: Shakespeare Meets Housewives And Hits Uncomfortably Close to Home (observer.com)