Directed by: Lauren Greenfield
Starring: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel, Virginia Nebel
I think I would like (if that’s the right word) The Queen of Versailles better if I actually knew what documentarian Lauren Greenfield was after — and if I could get away from the whiff of reality TV that clings to the whole thing. It’s not that it’s a bad film. In fact, it’s anything but (even though Greenfield offers very little that is stylish or cinematically creative). The film — regardless of how much was staged (which is a lot apparently) — exudes an inescapable fascination. Its depiction of a fabulously wealthy couple — neither of whom appear to have a single iota of taste — redefining the term “conspicuous consumption” until their over-priviliged world comes sort of crashing to Earth is hard to turn away from. If nothing else, their utter cluelessness provides a solid 100 minutes of appalling entertainment. It’s another matter that you may spend most of it wanting to slap its two leads and ask them, “What the hell is wrong with you?” (I admit I’d probably use a stronger word than “hell.”)
Theoretically, this was meant to be the story of timeshare billionaire David Siegel and his bleached blonde, boob-job, trophy wife Jackie building their 90,000-square-foot dream home, Versailles. (One assumes they thought 100,000 feet would have been showy.) They were, we learn, feeling cramped in their 26,000-square-foot bungalow and so opted to recreate and redefine Versailles (you know, the palace in France). Their Versailles, however, boasts an exterior copied from the top floors of a hotel in Las Vegas. (In truth, it looks a lot like an engorged version of any number of pretentious Florida homes.) This monstrous mausoleum of bad taste is so big that one of Jackie’s friends mistakes a framed-in closet for the bedroom. (Yes, well.) The logic behind building this exercise in consumer mania (what can anyone do with 10 kitchens?) comes down to building it because they can. Or rather, they thought they could — until the stock market crash of 2008. This is what provides the film’s drama — the spectacle of the Siegels on a budget, especially Jackie, who wanders through life in a state of utter bewilderment. She honestly seems to think they’re just regular people. (You mean Hertz doesn’t provide a driver?)
While she makes bizarre attempts at economizing, her husband — who had previously boasted about single-handedly getting George W. Bush elected in 2000 (in ways that “might not be legal”) — stubbornly holds onto his opulent new timeshare building in Vegas and blames everyone else for letting him borrow money so freely. (It’s made clear at one point that if he’d let go of this one property, he’d be fine.) It’s very hard to feel sorry for these people — though apparently some do. Yet it’s hard not to keep watching them — trainwreck style. I mean how can you not just marvel at a woman who had one of her dogs turned into a kind of miniature polar bear rug (it was flattened by a car and apparently couldn’t be stuffed) that festoons the grand piano? These are people who have themselves painted as Lancelot and Guinevere and see nothing tacky about it. Oh, these folks are definitely worth a look — from the safety of a theater seat. Rated PG for thematic elements and language.