Friday, August 10, 2012

The Queen of Versailles

Tonight I saw the documentary The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield.

Jackie and David Siegel are the epitome of the 1%. At the beginning of this film, they're in the progress of constructing the largest single family home in America. Their lives are all about excess: they have eight kids; 15 housekeepers; five nannies; drivers and more. They're active political contributors (David claims credit for getting W. elected for his first term) and are literally modeling the house they're building after the Palace of Versailles in France.

David is a time-share mogul who keeps growing his empire; his wife Jackie is a former model/computer engineer who just might be a hoarder. Of really expensive things.

Their world comes crashing down when the economy collapses and David is forced to halt construction on the mansion as he lays off thousands of employees to save the business. Times are tough—as long as you define "tough" as "flying commercial" and switching from private to public school for the kids.

On paper, they don't seem like a family that the average person would feel sorry for, but through the course of the narrative, you almost can't help but like them. Really, who wants to root against the American dream?

After all, they are self-made millionaires who both came from modest upbringings and were smart enough to build this wealth themselves. They do appear to have married for love, and their children seem like decent, kind people.

Maybe they aren't so bad, but gee it's hard to watch Jackie shop her way through a ghastly place like Wal-Mart for dozens of toys the kids clearly don't need.

One of the most touching scenes shows the family opening presents on Christmas morning and David explaining why a plain Hershey bar is one of his most treasured gifts. At the end of the day, he seems to get what's important but can't stop himself from being a business man.

At that is the moral of the story: watch out for the greed, because it almost always gets you in the end.

This was an incredibly watchable, human look at everyday people who became extraordinary and then normal again. Greenfield stays away from sensationalizing the situation and captures the family instead as they are—lucky for her, they're fascinating.


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