Tue August 7, 2012
The Queen of Versailles
A vivid and ultimaely depressing documentary about greed on the corporate and family level.
The Queen of Versailles
Director: Lauren Greenfield (Thin)
Cast: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel
Runtime: 100 min.
by John DeSando
As taken as I was with the lessons in Margin Call, a story about a Lehman Bros.-like mortgage brokerage firm in the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis, The Queen of Versailles is more powerful. And it’s not about brokers—it’s about a family that accepts all that cheap money, buys blindly, and declines maybe even more than the rest of us because it spends more than a small nation could.
At the beginning of this disturbing documentary, David Siegel owns Westgate Resorts, one of the world’s largest timeshare companies. Worth billions, he spends those billions freely, aided by his clueless trophy wife, blonde and buxom beauty-contestant Jackie, who helps him plan the largest single-family home in the USA: 90,000 square feet of Versailles palace imitation—“kitsch” is perhaps the best descriptor; "lifestyle porn" best describes the documentary.
Slowly director Lauren Greenfield lets the nice David talk about their fortune and the home. At the same time, Jackie has eight children, stating that without nannies she would never have that many. When the market tumbles, the Segals face not finishing their home and severely reducing their lifestyle, but not Jackie’s spending or her nannies.
As in any good documentary, the players do all the heavy satirical lifting, in this case Jackie redefines white trash and the much older David clarifies the role men play who indulge their wives as long as they are hot and attentive. “Foolish old man” is an apt cliché for a decent guy who was smart enough to make billions, but not smart enough to avoid cheap money (which his timeshare sales staff sold in abundance itself to reckless, unsophisticated buyers—a sad irony for all involved) and a cheap wife.
As the documentary glides inexorably to its conclusion, we are left with the impression of a decent man who couldn’t control his appetites and a Pollyanna wife who couldn’t control her spending. Be warned, this is not Inside Job, an insightful documentary about how all of us contributed to the crash; it is rather a depressing insider look at how so many bought into the cheap money trap and could not get out.
My radio co-host and I had to take a half hour to detox from this misery before we could record our show in at least a minimal upbeat manner. The Queen of Versailles is unremittingly gloomy probably because a part of us all is hidden amongst that greed. And yet, it is in the best documentary tradition: truth will out.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org.
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com