A million miles, or (more precisely) several billion dollars away from the poverty of minimum wages we have The Queen of Versailles, a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel and their billionaire family (mega rich thanks to David’s financially booming (but morally bankrupt) timeshare business). The Siegels were disgruntled and frustrated with their existing mansion (poor them) and planned on upgrading to “the largest family home in America” © instead. Their dream home was to be a 90,000 ft.² mansion inspired by France’s legendary Versailles Palace, or VersailleS as the Americans are won’t to (incorrectly) pronounce it.
The Queen of Versailles began with the money (filthy) rich / taste poor Siegel family carousing in their wealth, a tad short of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault, but still high on the wealth their dynasty is built on. About 15 minutes in I was concerned that I was just watching the Seigels’ audition tape for some reality TV show similar to the Kardashians. David Siegel was a typically self-important, self-satisfied and self-made businessman while his wife (the “Queen” of the title) looked to be as dense and ridiculous as her (somewhat) false breasts. Such was his influence that David boasted of his King Maker status, claiming that he was “personally” responsible for making George Bush Jr President, then chuckling at the implied illegality of how he did it.
Thankfully the Queen of Versailles took a huge left turn and showed why it won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Directing Award: Documentary, as the cast of the Queen of Versailles (David, Jackie, their 8 children, the 19 staff, the four dogs, the five cats, the reptiles and even peacocks went from billionaires to “not billionaires” almost overnight, when the global financial crisis peaked.
It may have been difficult to muster compassion or sympathy for rich folk complaining about losing hundreds of millions when they still lived in a gold plated ivory tower (maybe not actually gold plated) and the Queen of Versailles was driven to McDonald’s in a limousine. However, there was no escaping the fact that this was a family in crisis. While it was easy enough to chuckle as they lost their private jets and Jackie asks a bemused Hertz rental agent what the name of her driver would be, there was no denying the pain and desperation the entire family felt as David desperately tried to save his business.
Credit (and awards) have been lauded on photographer / documentary film maker Lauren Greenfield, who directed the Queen of Versailles, and she does a fine job. However, it would be naïve to overlook the colossal good fortune that had her in with the Siegels just as they went from riches to rags. The real stars of the film are the family, with able support from the unfinished white elephant in the room of “the largest family home in America”.
By the time the credits rolled, The Queen of Versailles vaulted far beyond the Cribs or Life Styles of the Rich and Shameless show it began life as. It dealt with the effects of the financial catastrophe on the mega rich, showing them to be sympathetic (but still absurd) characters.