|David and Jackie Siegel in The Queen of Versailles.|
Let them eat shit
By Don Simpson
In 2007, when director Lauren Greenfield began documenting the lives of a 74-year-old billionaire and his 43-year-old trophy wife, we can only imagine that she planned on revealing to us the excessively extravagant lifestyle of these modern-day Florida billionaires. Inspired by Versailles, David and Jackie Siegel had just started building a 90,000-square-foot estate, which is probably what caused them to appear on Greenfield’s radar. The completed property would have been the largest single-family home in the United States.
But then the 2008 global economic crisis happened. Suddenly, David’s Westgate Resorts timeshare empire — which was built upon a fragile foundation of cheap bank loans — is in jeopardy of financial destruction. Development of the palatial abode screeches to a halt. Greenfield’s plan to film from the lavish vantage point of the top one percent of America was turned upside down. Suddenly, The Queen of Versailles transforms into a surreal riches-to-rags story, one that is much more akin to a plot from a satirical Frank Capra or Preston Sturges screenplay than a documentary.
The fact that David and Jackie were attempting to recreate the French palace/chateau Versailles in Florida seems all too perfect for this story. Jackie is essentially a modern day reincarnation of Marie Antoinette, totally oblivious to the real world troubles that are brewing outside of the gates of her home. After their financial hardships begin, Jackie still cannot curtail her spending; all the while, David transforms into a penny-pinching Scrooge. Those two extremes do not make for a happy marriage. Greenfield’s interviews with David and Jackie become increasingly intimate and personal as The Queen of Versailles evolves into a complex portrait of a family that finds itself teetering on the brink of emotional and financial collapse.
Greenfield’s study of extravagant excess transforms the Siegels’ current 26,000 square-feet home into a cramped and cluttered maze of children, nannies, animals, stuff and dog feces? Yes, David and Jackie are so bad off that they are unable pay someone to pick up dog feces. Greenfield seems mesmerized by the feces, and rightly so. Even most underprivileged families in the United States would not allow dog feces to sit on the floor of their home. But, then again, we are observing as David and Jackie’s lives are metaphorically — and quite literally — in the shitter. All they can do now is wait for some corporate welfare to trickle down from the Wall Street bankers and hope that it is enough to save them.
The Queen of Versailles screens at the Los Angeles Film Festival: June 15, 5 p.m., Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 12; June 16, 9:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas.