The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012)

The Queen of Versailles benefits from reality interjecting on behalf of the filmmakers and its subject. Much as how the narrative trajectory of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams could not have predicted the rich material plundered upon, The Queen of Versailles begins as a much different picture than intended to be. As the audience is introduced to the billionaire Siegel family, their cramped mansion living-quarters are in need of expansion. We’re introduced to the construction of Versailles – a 90,000 square-foot mansion including 23 full bathrooms, 13 bedrooms, and a convertible baseball field/parking lot. Director Lauren Greenfield initially celebrates the excessiveness in the same manner that one would find in any episode of Cribs or Real Housewives. With principle filming beginning in 2007, the naivety of excess spending rocks the Siegel family out of their self-denial following the economic crash. 

David Siegel’s Westgate Resort enterprise is based on the causal events of the 2008 market collapse – he leases timeshares to working class families who do not have the means to afford such an expense. With Siegel’s client base now limited in their access to credit, he finds himself in a tough spot as he continues to pay off a hefty loan on his Las Vegas headquarters while halting construction of Versailles. David Siegel’s rigid capitalist outlook is delicately countered by the matriarch of the picture, Jacqueline Siegel. Generous, though naive, Jacqueline’s outlook on life is grounded in self-denial. When referencing the 2008 bailout, she remarks that she was under the impression that it would help out the everyman, “or you know, like us”. Her perception of the world seems stunted, perhaps a result of her wealth. The values instilled in her and her children are certainly a far-cry from my own, where her options are not hindered fiscally.

What’s crucial to The Queen of Versailles’ success is the calculated judgment passed by Greenfield. She’s a quiet force behind the camera, managing to take in many details that would otherwise go unnoticed. Greenfield’s attention to detail relates much of the Siegel’s rendezvous’ to any working class family. What that says is up to interpretation, but if anything, she continues the argument posed by Ernest Hemingway’s response to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The argument acknowledges wealth as a circumstantial aspect to developing values. The more innate values in people do not discriminate between socioeconomic classes.  Perhaps a glib worldview, but it’s one worth mining when your central characters relish in consumption and excessiveness. 

Rating: 7/10