Film Review: The Queen of Versailles

No, not the queen of Versailles, Marie Antoinette (more on her later), but Jackie Siegel, wife of self-made timeshare billionaire David Siegel. The Queen of Versailles follows this extremely wealthy couple as they build the biggest home in America, one that is inspired by the famous Chateau Versailles.

This couple is the ultimate power couple. Photographs of them with famous friends who include everyone from George W. Bush to Donatella Versace to Samuel L. Jackson accent their home and timeshare hotels, showing the audience how influential and wealthy they really are. With seven children, two nannies, a two-story closet and breast implants that are impossible to ignore, Jackie is a woman who lives an extravagant lifestyle that her decades-older husband happily provides her with. David is a man who claims to be personally responsible for George W. Bush taking office and who relishes in the company of beautiful women, especially Miss America contestants.

Jackie and David Siegel

So it should come as no surprise that this couple would build the largest mansion in America. One so big that it would contain over 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens and be stocked with Louis XIV-inspired antiques. Construction on the house begins and Jackie is ecstatic. But fast-forward two years. The house is halfway complete and the housing bubble has burst. The economic crisis is in full swing and David is forced to lay off 7,000 of his employees.

Jackie and her twin daughters

It’s hard to feel sympathetic for this couple who flaunts their wealth so obnoxiously. Because even when they are trying to save money, they do it so miserably that it made me want to scream in frustration. A prime example of this is when Jackie goes to her local Wal-Mart to stock up on Christmas gifts for her eight children. After wheeling out four carts that are packed to the brim, I notice that there are multiple copies of certain toys. Why on earth would you buy your children three copies of the game Operation? Or three baby strollers? What about three matching sweaters? The matching sweaters really had me laughing because they would probably be paired with expensive jeans and Manolo Blahniks, demonstrating the strange dichotomy that this family was now living in.

Unfinished Versailles

Both Jackie and David came from almost nothing, so this film delves into the American Dream; what it means and what the implications are when it falls short and fails. What I really liked about this film was how accessible it was to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. As someone who isn’t an expert in the housing or real estate crisis, this film breaks everything down in an easy-to-understand manner. It uses different sources to help further the point it is trying to make, such as including actual broadcasts and images from the day the DOW Jones plummeted and reports that examined the building of the new Versailles.

Although the film started out with me feeling like I was watching the Florida version of the Real Housewives of…, it quickly took on a different tone when the family’s lives were turned upside down. It’s easy to see why The Queen of Versailles took home the Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 and why it was so popular when it made its Toronto Debut at the Hot Docs Film Festival this year. And although it’s easy to dismiss this family’s “plight”, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for Jackie. It’s obvious that she is a loving wife and mother who becomes increasingly unappreciated by David, as he becomes more and more consumed with the idea of saving the family’s wealth and continuing to let his Versailles dream carry on.

The Siegel family

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