Lauren Greenfield‘s The Queen of Versailles (Magnolia, 7.20) “is an oddly spelllbinding, must-see documentary,” I wrote on 1.19.12 during the Sundance Film Festival. “The backdrop is the vacation-timeshare empire of former billionaire David Siegel, and how things began to collapse after the financial meltdown of 2008. But the focus is about how his marriage to 40something Jackie Siegel, a clueless, fake-boobed 40something bimbo, began to rot around the edges when the money began to evaporate and budgetary restraint became necessary.
“Jackie is truly appalling — a metaphor for a kind of profligate soul cancer, a poster lady for American emptiness in the 21st Century. She’s not without “good” qualities, but she makes Imelda Marcos look like June Cleaver.
“She admits to Greenfield that she had kids because she knew her nannies would take care of them. She is compulsive, immature and uneducated — an eight-year old. She’s had a deceased pet stuffed and keeps his remains inside a glass case. When times get tough dogshit turds are seen on the floor of her home. She asks a car-rental rep at an airport who her driver will be, and is surprised to discover that she’ll have to drive the car herself. (I wonder if this last bit was genuine — it seems too much even for her.)
“The press notes say that The Queen of Versailles has “the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy,” and there is a kind of grandiosity about the downswirl that affects the lives of David and Jackie and their seven or eight kids and their domestic staff.
“It follows their riches-to-rags story over a two…make that a three-year period. It begins before the ’08 crash when Westgate, Siegel’s timeshare company, is bringing in millions hand over fist, and finishes with a financial move that David made in November 2011.
“The material centerpiece of the film is a ridiculous, half-built, 90,000-square-foot mansion — inspired by the palace of Versailles — that David began building in flush times. And then comes the crash and it all gradually turns to shit.
“The Queen of Versailles is a portrait of American cluelessness by way of absurd financial irresponsibilty. It’s a cautionary tale about the cost of living an unexamined life — of living an unrefined and largely uneducated life that’s solely about yourself and your tacky creature comforts and never seeing beyond that. What Greenfield shows is a metaphor about 21st Century American greed, and what happened to the faux-royal easy-money crowd after the good times stopped rolling.
“It’s also a kind of comedy, if you watch it with the right frame of mind. I’m calling it another Al Qaeda recruitment film — the best I’ve seen since Sex and the City 2.”