A botox-laced former beauty queen with adjustable cleavage and enough money to build the biggest house in America isn't your typical heroine. But director Lauren Greenfield’s documentary, “The Queen of Versailles” takes audiences beyond preconceptions and surface level complexities and into a world both fascinating and tragic.
The film follows real-estate mogul David Siegel and his (trophy) wife Jacqueline’s quest to build their dream home –a humble 90,000 square foot mansion replete with a bowling alley, sushi bar, baseball field, and all other necessities for comfortable living. But construction on this modern-day palace comes to a screeching halt when the Siegel’s time-share venture, Westgate Resorts, falls prey to economic downturn.
Introducing the Siegels and their exorbitant wealth makes for an amusing start. It’s easy for audiences to laugh and groan at this caricature of the one-percent who give their children tigers for their birthday and cover their walls with ridiculous portraits of themselves. But not until some money is lost rather than flaunted does the movie truly take off.
Greenfield and her editors weave an impressively cohesive and structured narrative. David’s financial failings paralleled by Jackie’s apparent ignorance of them create a rich source of tension even before the stress of it all begins to chip away at the veneer of their marriage. Interspersed shots of the Siegel’s half-finished Xanadu remind audience members that a dream-home, not just house, may be at stake.
Admittedly, Greenfield got lucky with the Siegel’s misfortune; if things hadn’t taken a turn for the worse, the film may not have proved as affective if its initial purpose was served instead. But despite what some may choose to deny, peering into this Fortune Five-Hundred world does evoke a fascination that makes it just as easy to envy as it is to criticize.
This past week, Greenfield won a defamation lawsuit brought against her by Siegel who claimed the documentary damaged his company’s reputation (not to mention his own). Indeed, David comes across as a Hugh Hefner/Ebenezer Scrooge hybrid, villainous enough to make Jackie “the hero” by default.
During one interview, Jackie states that all she ever wanted was to be adored. While “adore” may be a strong word, her audience undoubtedly feels at least one thing for Jackie: pity. And provoking pity—if not sympathy—for someone who appears more fabricated that flesh is an achievement in itself.