**** (out of four)
Jackie Siegel strolls through the 90,000-square foot Orlando house that she and her timeshare resort-mogul husband David are building, which will feature a bowling alley, an ice/roller rink, two tennis courts and 10 kitchens. “This is the staircase I would come up,” she says, near the sort of stairs a Disney princess would use. “If I was going to visit the children.”
Sadly, this extravagantly rich couple and their eight children do not know what’s ahead. In director Lauren Greenfield’s tremendous documentary packed with terrific details, greed is not good. It is a slow, self-inflicted wound whose pain hits hard and fast once the economy drops out and people who made their money in the wrong industries suddenly hold giant bags with dollar signs and nothing in them.
No, the Siegels don’t have Scrooge McDuck-esque dollar-sign bags, but the comparison fits. They have seemingly every other indulgence available to those with funds and an imagination. When the money runs out and most of the in-house help must be laid off, the kids are forced to go from private to public school, and there aren’t enough hands to clean up after all their cute dogs. Nothing sucks the sparkle out of a mansion like urine and poop on the floor.
Though both 74-year-old David and 43-year-old Jackie—a former model and Mrs. Florida who may be a trophy wife but stands by her man in the hard times—came from modest upbringings, “The Queen of Versailles” depicts successful people carelessly infatuated with the rewards of their own success. And seemingly oblivious to the fact that they don’t interact with their kids at all or have a happy family. David’s a workaholic who treats his adult son like only a professional colleague; Jackie, whose clothes struggle to contain fake breasts she clearly prefers to let breathe, showcases certain hints of her humble Midwestern upbringing but also demonstrates why David says being married to her is “like having another child.”
Greenfield’s storytelling command doesn’t point and laugh at the excess. She merely marvels at the accumulating ironies, including David, whose parents lost much of their money in Vegas, struggling to maintain his centerpiece Vegas property in spite of family members’ and investors’ wishes. “We’re busting at the seams,” Jackie says about the 26,000-square foot house the family seeks to replace, without considering whether they’ll grow tired and confined by the new, bigger-than-the-White-House space too. It takes one of their kids to point out that everyone grows accustomed to everything, even a lifestyle that seems ideal and perpetually awesome.
This real-life tragedy astounds and fascinates with anecdotes (the Siegels’ limo driver used to be a millionaire but went broke) and constant, iconic demonstrations of excess run amok. At one point, Jackie and her daughter question if their pet lizard has died and shudder when discovering him face down in his cage. Says another Siegel kid: “I didn’t even know we had a lizard.”
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