The Queen of Versailles is a touching documentary about the craziness of consumerism
How about a documentary chronicling the journey of self-made billionaire David Siegel and his ex-beauty queen wife Jackie as they boastfully set out to erect America’s largest mansion, modelled, no less, on the palace Marie Antoinette called home before losing her head?
They had us at Versailles. But Lauren Greenfield’s voyeuristic film portrait ends up twisting into darker terrain when America’s real-estate bubble bursts, the family’s fortunes fall off a cliff and Greenfield is on hand to capture the whole sorry mess.
‘When life started to stray from all our expectations,’ says Greenfield, ‘I was fortunate that Jackie and David had the courage to stay committed to the project. They understood that their journey was, on some level, a statement about the American Dream.’ A dream that the time-share magnate, his consort and their seven-strong brood were living at its most tastelessly extravagant.
Jackie is the film’s star, a perky, pampered trophy wife with inflated boobs, a $1 million-a-year clothing budget and plans for a roller rink, bowling alley and children’s wing in her new 90,000sq ft spread. Her lack of pretence and taste make her a scream to follow, even as she constructs her own guillotine with her delusional take on downsizing.
Picking up a rental car, she asks if a driver is included in the price; and as her mega-house dreams crumble, she tells her Filipino maid to look on the bright side, ‘At least you won’t have to clean it.’
Ultimately, The Queen of Versailles is a case study of America’s consumerist culture run amok, as well as a portrait of a family in crisis, albeit in a house with 17 bathrooms. You actually end up feeling sorry for the clan, or at least a hell of a lot sorrier than if you were watching the same predicament befall the Kardashians. ‘It’s a morality tale,’ vouches Greenfield, ‘with lessons for us all.’