The Queen of Versailles

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Sometimes documentary film makers get lucky and they are at the right place at the right time. In this case, the documentarian set out to make an entertaining movie about a uber- wealthy time share magnate, his much younger wife (by 30 years), and their family as they build the largest private residence in the U.S., a 90,000 square foot house to replace their already ridiculously large mansion. This probably would have turned into a decent and entertaining movie. But then the real estate bubble/financial crisis hit and this became a very good, very different movie.

As a result, the movie explores issues such as: class differences in the U.S.; how people/families handle pressure; the cultural phenomenon of many people in the U.S. living beyond their means (and these people had means); and the crazy growth of some businesses when banks made money so easy to get and how quickly those businesses crumbled when money credit was not available.

While how these people lived didn’t generate any sympathy, the people themselves were very interesting and you did hope things would work out for them. The coming attractions made me expect mostly comedy and there was plenty of that, but the downward trajectory of their situation made this much more of a downer than I expected. Very interesting movie and worth seeing if you like docs.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I agree with Bill, it’s a captivating documentary, where the director, Lauren Greenfield, certainly lucked out when the economy tanked. Her cinema verite style is amazing, in terms of the access she gets and the way her crew must blend into the background because the people don’t seem to be playing to the camera at all, and it’s not scripted reality like you see on TV. There’s some sit down interviews, but 98% of it is just what happens. The husband and wife are not cliches: David Siegel, the 65 year old timeshare magnate is a self-made man, workaholic and sensitive to his many employees. He tends to ignore his many kids, and treat his oldest son as the executive employee that he is, certainly not as an affectionate father. The mom, Jackie Siegel, certainly loves the spotlight and her shopping, but is very down to earth, also rose from a blue collar background and claims believably that she loves her husband, will stick with him through thick and thin, and would be able to move to a 4 BR house without too much trouble. Contrast this character with the Cate Blanchett character in Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, where she is the opposite of Jackie Siegel. I laughed out loud when she is forced to rent a car at Hertz when visiting her childhood friend in upstate New York, and asks about the driver that comes with the car. This obliviousness shows how much she’s living in a different world, but she seems like a nice person, not a phony, and a good mother (albeit with multiple nannies!).

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