Sunday, July 15, 2012


"The Queen of Versailles" premiered at Sundance 2012.  There were many wonderful documentaries to come to Sundance this year and "Versailles" was a top contender in the U.S. Documentary division. It ended up winning the Directing Award for a Documentary and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary.  I think I had this preconceived notion that documentaries were boring and dull; not the least bit entertaining.  The docs that I screened at Sundance were anything but that!  I'm a new fan of documentaries!

"The Queen of Versailles" was about a wealthy family living in Florida, building the house of their dreams:  a 90,000 square foot mansion having a similar appearance to Versailles.  The filmmaker/director, Lauren Greenfield,  initially went to photograph the Siegel family, but after meeting the welcoming and warm family, she knew she had to document their family through the use of movie film, not still photos.  Ms. Greenfield spent three years chronicling the "everyday" life of the Siegels. Ms. Greenfield didn't realize at the time that she would document the economic crash of the United States and its impact on this billionaire and his family.

David Siegel, President and founder of Westgate Resorts, worked his way up with the start of this timeshare conglomerate.  His business savvy wasn't transferrable to his love-life as the  story picks up with his wife Jacqueline (Jackie) who is 26 years his junior and not his first wife.  We are taken on the ride of Jackie's life, from her background, her dreams, meeting David, her education, and her priorities in life.  Don't judge a book by its cover.  Jackie is a well-educated woman, but after watching this film, you might second guess her common sense.

David is a business man through and through.  David's company is highlighted so that we, the audience, can truly see what happens behind the curtain in the timeshare business.  As you might guess, it's not pretty or flattering.  Together Jackie and David have 7 children plus a niece living with them.  I lost track of the number of dogs they had.  I also remember being grateful for my dog training abilities!  The lavish lifestyle was extraordinary and beyond my comprehension.  That is, until the market crashed, the banks folded and Mr. Siegel could not keep his company afloat.  That, in turn, affected the completion of "Versailles"as well as every other aspect of their lives.

As the Siegel's financial situation changed, we watched as Jackie and David tried to cut back on expenses by cutting down on the number of nannies and housekeepers they had and traveling on a commercial airplane not a private one.  One of the biggest laughs I got during this movie was when Jackie and her kids got off the plane in Elmira, NY (my husband's hometown!) and went up to the rental car desk to get her car.  She asked what her driver's name was!  Really!  Had she been that far removed from her roots of growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Binghamton, NY that she forgot that chauffeurs don't come with rental cars?  That is just one of the amazingly ridiculous behaviors I witnessed in this film.  The total gluttony of everyone was appalling.  I know I have 20 pairs of shoes too many, but this family made me look frugal!

David Siegel saw the writing on the wall with his financial future, or at least his near future.  With his repeated pleas with his wife to cut back on spending, she seemed completely oblivious to his words.  Their relationship suffered.  Jackie's attempt to cut back on spending for one of her kid's birthday parties resulted in going to Wal-Mart where she only bought  a few grocery carts full of toys and a couple new bikes.  The next shot was of their garage and emptying the items into an already packed garage complete with bicycles apparently never used.  Gluttony.  The nanny's reactions to all of this was priceless.  It was also very sad to see the background of the nannies while Jackie and David were oblivious to that as well.  It was really the the Siegel World.

This was definitely a rags to riches to rags story (although the final look of those rags is probably a Louis Vuitton cut), however Mr. Siegel apparently didn't like that description as he sued Sundance for claiming that.  It's funny, but Mr. Siegel said just that phrase in the movie.  I don't imagine the law suit got very far.  It was also amazing to me that Jackie Siegel attended the opening night of the film, having never screened it!  Oh, my! Was there a common sense issue perhaps?

This movie is an insight into a unique family which then gives you perspective to your own life.  Searching for the American Dream and then increasing it exponentially doesn't always guarantee happiness.  At the core of every family there needs to be love, trust, and balance.  Money doesn't buy it all!


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