QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
(director: Lauren Greenfeld; cinematographer: Tom Hurwitz; editor: Victor Livingston; music: Jeff Beal; cast: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel, Richard Siegel; Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Lauren Greenfeld/Danielle Renfrew Behrens; Magnolia Pictures; 2012-USA/Denmark)
“My problem with this riches to rags Americana story is that I felt no sympathy for the featured self-absorbed materialists.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
My problem with this riches to rags Americana story is that I felt no sympathy for the featured self-absorbed materialists. But I took no pleasure in their humbling experience of no longer being without financial worries after their business collapse. Two years ago, at the start of filming, director Lauren Greenfeld (“Thin”), was filming the doc as if a reality television program. At that time the tacky but crafty nouveau riche 74-year-old David Siegel, a billionaire timeshare magnate of the Westgate Resorts firm from Orlando, and his 30 years his junior busty trophy wife Jackie, a divorcee from an abusive husband and a former beauty queen contest winner from Florida, were sitting pretty on the top of the world and outgrew their 26,000-square-foot Orlando home and thereby coughed up a $100 million to build on a mortgage in Orlando a 90,000 square feet palace modeled after Versailles. This would make it the largest single-family home in America. The Versailles replica would accommodate their eight children, many pets and their 19 live-in servants, plus a bowling alley, an ice-skating rink, a baseball field, two tennis courts, 30 bathrooms, extra-large closets and enough French antiques to stock a Paris museum.
But when in 2008 the housing market collapse throws Wall Street into a tailspin and the crooked bank lenders no longer are loaning cheap money, David’s empire is ruined, Versailles remains half-built, and real-estate hustler David is forced to layoff over 6,000 of his employees and put his dream Versailles house on the market and raise $400 million to keep control of his flashy flagship Las Vegas resort from the bankers. The couple must now adjust to living within their means, which means no more private plane, chauffeur driven cars, public school for the spoiled kiddies and the realization the kids would have to attend college and get real jobs.
The pic holds the obscenely rich couple up to the mirror as an example of many scheming get-rich-quick Americans during these greedy times who lived beyond their means, made fast-money by crooked deals and were part of the problem why America was faced for the last four years with a financial crisis. We observe the pain the Siegels go through in handling their so-called humbling experience of doing such things as learning how to turn off all the lights in their big house to save electricity, flying on commercial planes and putting on a pretty face for a strained marriage.
Greenfeld passes no judgment on the Siegels, instead she delves into their intricate lives and how they fight back to persevere. The trophy wife, a compulsive shopper who worked as an engineer when living as a low-middle-class worker in her hometown of upstate NY, proves to be no bimbo but a loving mother and wife who vows to stand by her hubby for richer or poorer and shows a genuine warmth to others. The Siegels are depicted as regular folks who got caught in the belief that their investment schemes with the bank as lenders would last forever and when the bubble burst these 0.001 percent not so innocent wealthy elites were as stunned as the harder hit more innocent ninety-nine percent of Americans and got a taste of the bad medicine they were dishing out.
I have no trouble with the documentary with the way it was filmed and how comical it seemed, but I never could warm up to the smug David Siegel, known as the “Timeshare King,” who made his dough off hustling the struggling American working-class by inducing them to live like the rich folks even if they didn’t have the money to do so. David and his repulsive staff sucker the suckers into taking vacation timeshares homes for the rest of their lives in a resort they couldn’t afford. This, of course, ends when the banks are forced to pull the plug on such shenanigans.
The film ends in 2011 with the crass excessive materialistic couple losing their Versailles palace and the obstinate capitalist piggish David learning that the imperious banks now have a controlling interest in his crumbling empire. There isn’t a final resolution to the family financial woes–leaving the still dreamy Siegels‘ story unfinished just like America’s current one.
REVIEWED ON 11/26/2012 GRADE: B-