Saturday, August 11, 2012

Queen of Versailles [2012]

MPAA (PG)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Queen of Versailles (directed by Lauren Greenfield) is a documentary with a "reality show" feel to it about time-share real estate magnate David Siegel, his "force of nature" wife Jackie and their large (8 kids) family.  "Back in the day" (before the collapse of the real estate market's collapse in 2008) they were on their way to building the largest "family home" in the United States complete with something like 14 bedrooms, countless baths, multiple pools, 2 tennis courts and a bowling alley.  (Hence the reference to Versailles...).

It would be easy to make fun of these people, especially at the beginning of the documentary, which was filmed _before_ the housing market collapse.  Back then David Siegel came across to me as a supremely arrogant man claiming to have "single-handedly" made George W. Bush the president of the United States, saying ON CAMERA that he'd "prefer to not get into exactly how," because (snickering) "what [he] did was probably illegal." (Note to enterprising journalists and/or dare one dream an enterprising district attorney willing to look under a few rocks to see whether there was anything to Siegel's boast there or not.  Siegel is a resident of Florida after all (and back then a very rich and flamboyant one) when Bush was declared the winner of the year 2000 Presidential election after the infamous problems with the vote in that state...).

However, whether or not Siegel ends up serving any time for possibly stealing an election from the rest of the country, "his man," GW Bush, who along with his wife, were shown visiting his/Jackies "smaller home" (half the size of the larger "Versailles" that they were building...) ended up producing Siegel's own downfall: Time-share real estate king that Siegel was, his kingdom collapsed largely collapsed after the financial crisis dried-up the cheap loans on which his business depended.  As soon as people couldn't purchase (or "flip") those time shares that his company was selling, Siegel's own business fortunes dried up as well.

A good part of me smiles, saying "couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy."  Yet, there's something sad about watching a man with a family struggling to pay his bills and keep his home (palatial as Siegel's was...) even if he was a billionaire and had made his fortune, in good part, swindling much poorer people of their money as well.

Siegel's wife Jackie is arguably even more complex.  One _could_ wish to dismiss her as "some kind of ditzy, simpleminded trophy wife" that one could expect to see on a "reality show" style documentary.  But _if one is honest about it_, she's far more complicated/compelling than that: Born in a small town in upstate New York, she was both good looking and driven as a teen / young adult.  As a result, she did really achieve actually quite a bit on her own _before_ meeting Siegel.  She got an engineering degree, worked for IBM as an engineer for some time.  When she found that work _deathly boring_ she went into modeling and competing/succeeding in various beauty contests.  And after she married Siegel, she apparently even won the Mrs America beauty contest one year, before settling down and having her seven kids with him.  Afterwards, she continued to be active in the beauty pageant circuit, as a coach/supporter, etc.  One could initially try to dismiss her, but honestly, she did quite a bit with her life.  And at least on camera, she didn't come across as some sort of a deathly snob.  At the beginning of the film, she was simply up-to-her-eyeballs in money.  Perhaps she could have become someone more like Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, that is true.  But Jackie came across in the film as basically "a small town girl" who "really, really made good" (imagine going to _her_ class reuinon ;-) ;-), and yes, with her "billions" (and later simply "hundreds of millions" ... ) she arguably "still shopped at Walmart."

Yes, their house (that thanks to the financial crisis they were unable to complete) was ridiculously extravagant.  But I'd probably focus more of my arrows on her husband than her.

Anyway, Queen of Versailles is not a profound movie.  I didn't and wouldn't necessarily want to pay "full price" to see it.  I'm still not sure I particularly like the family.  The film's definitely of the "reality show" genre.  But, argh!  I can't outright hate it or hate them. ;-)

And there it is ... there's a good part of me that would say that if there EVER WAS "a poster family" deserving of an _extended_ "time share" visit to a Communist Era "re-education camp" then the Siegels would be that family. (I'd love to see David doing some time swinging a pick-axe in some Siberian rock-quarry somewhere.  And there are honestly NOT many people I'd EVER wish that for ...)  But the Siegels do remain "regular folk" too ... Sigh ... ;-)


While "in theaters in major markets," many "Independent" / Foreign Films and Documentaries are  available for home viewing in the U.S. through the IFC Video On Demand service (type in your zipcode and cable provider to see if this service as available to you) or for download via services like Sundance Now and/or Itunes / Amazon Instant Video.  Eventually, these films become available for rent in the U.S. via NetFlix or   More obscure titles can also be found via Facets Multimedia's DVD Rental Service.

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