Tuesday January 8, 2013 12:09 AM
Many reviews of the Queen of Versailles confess that even though they ridiculed the über-tacky billionaire couple during the first half of this fascinating documentary, they felt sorry for them and even identified with them towards the end as the subjects started losing their money after the stock market crash in 2008.
I'm not among that crowd. As this greedy, insipidly clueless, careless, impulsive, shallow and sometimes downright stupid rich white-trash family lost more and more of their assets and had to give up the mansion that was going to become the biggest house in USA (Boo-friggin-hoo), my schaudenfreude levels were registering at an all time high.
The documentary opens as time-share king and all-around dirt bag David Siegel and his trophy wife Jaqueline, with ego and boobs equally inflated to Defcon 4 levels, realize that their giant mansion is not quite big enough and decide to build a royal castle modeled after one in Versailles.
David is a 75-year-old super-republican (He claims he got Bush elected in 2000 via illegal means. Am I the only one who finds it disgusting that this guys openly admits this on a documentary and not even a single question is asked?), who works himself to death in order to amass more wealth he obviously has no idea what to do with.
So he leaves the spending duties to his bimbo-in-chief wife Jaqueline, who makes any airhead trophy wife caricature played by Jennifer Coolidge in American Pie movies or The Christopher Guest mockumentaries look like frugal geniuses.
If David is capitalism in the flesh, then Jaqueline is greed incarnate. Nothing is enough for her. She needs more castles, more clothes, more planes, more antiques, more dogs and even treats her 12 shallow and soulless children as consumer items. The tour she gives of their new castle is nauseating in its excess. Her closet alone is the size of five houses.
I am never a proponent that violent movies cause actual violence, but I hope beyond hope that this film will not be available to rent in any third world country. Otherwise, the kind of financial exuberance and selfishness on display might create a new brand of anti-American terrorism. Our new attackers, please just remember that we are not all like this.
Lo and behold, the 2008 recession hits the Siegels and not only do they lose their castle, but they also (gasp!) have to cut back on their spending. They let go of many nannies and servants, which result in the house looking like a dog poop infested pigsty. Meanwhile, no one even brings up the idea that perhaps they might move to a house with 40 bathrooms, instead of 70.
Director Lauren Greenfield began this documentary focused on the castle's evolution and cleverly decided to keep the cameras rolling as the family lost more and more along the way. This leads to some of the funniest parts of the film. Jaqueline asking a rental car agent her "driver"s name, stocking five shopping carts to the brim at Walmart because they have to "cut back", look like they belong in Christopher Guest's canon.
But unfortunately these are real people and that's what turns the documentary into a pathetic and macabre examination of the pathology of greed. Greenfield tries very hard to make these people look human and succeeds as much as she probably could. I felt sad for them not with any form of empathy, but with distant pity. I, like many others, would love to have a fraction of their wealth even when they're at their poorest, but do not for a second envy them as people.
Yes, it's easy to identify with some of their universally accepted values of the importance of family. But on the other hand, the way they treat their nanny (You try to tell me that you have billions but can't give the person who's literally raising your children money for a plane ticket so she can visit the son she hasn't seen in 20 years?), the way Jaqueline shows up looking like a millionaire stripper when she's supposed to be relating to common jobless people, the way the creepy old man David ogles at Miss Universe (The film does not show this, but he lost a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2008), makes me hate these people more and more.
After watching Queen of Versailles, I realized that David Siegel was the jerk who said that he would fire many of his employees if Barack Obama was elected to a second term. Yet he lost his money and his precious castle because of the decisions made by The Bush administration, which he proudly claims he put in place. What goes around comes around buddy.
The Queen of Versailles is available on Netflix Instant.