Republished from MOVE Magazine
“I can’t hear the TV because my potato chips are too crunchy.” “I didn’t bring my smartphone to the bathroom.” “My family is falling apart because the financial crisis caused my billion-dollar business to crumble before my eyes.” Not all #firstworldproblems are a joke.
In the 2012 documentary “Queen of Versailles,” director Lauren Greenfield sets out to prove just that.
Except she doesn’t. Not at first, at least. The first half (or so) of the film, Greenfield seems hell-bent on proving just how ridiculously over-the-top the Siegel family is. It’s hard to imagine this was too difficult a task. David, the head honcho of the family, owns the world’s largest privately owned timeshare business (Westgate Resorts) as well as a Las Vegas skyscraper that boasts the brightest sign on the strip. His wife, Jackie, is a former Miss America whose faith in plastic surgery practically knocks you in the face with each new low-cut dress (thank God this wasn’t in 3D or those things would’ve blocked everything else on-screen). And, oh yeah, they’re trying to build the largest house in the country.
The house is technically the focus of the film, and it’s the source of most of the ridiculousness. For example, the 90,000-square-foot mansion includes its own tennis court, baseball field, sushi bar and ice/roller skating rink, among acres of other stuff for the family’s eight kids to play with. And as we get a glimpse at this mammoth of a project, the Siegel family is more than willing to provide commentary showing just how freaking rich, and relatively clueless, they are.
This part of the film brings loads of laughs (some scornful), but, as mentioned, it’s not too difficult to squeeze ridiculous comedy out of this family. The real grit (and really, the reason to see this film) comes with four little numbers: 2008. As the economy crashes, so does Westport Resorts. David is forced to work day and night in search of financial solutions, the mega-house is put on hold, and the family actually has to try to live within some semblance of means (which, for them, means only three cartfuls per Walmart trip).
While Jackie spouts quotes like, “OK, I guess I’m the chef now,” (You’re the mother, Goddamnit!) just often enough for us to remember they’re still clueless 1-percenters, the effect the financial crisis has on this tremendously wealthy family is simply fascinating. Jackie emerges as much more than a gold digger; she truly loves David, and even her ridiculous tits are a sign of how much she worries about losing him for “two 20-year-olds.” David’s love for his family comes into question as his pride for his business prevents him from a return to normalcy.
Yes, you’ll get some “LOL RICH PPL” chuckles out of “Queen of Versailles,” but the movie truly thrives as an examination many people would not even assume (or care) to undertake. It’s a “riches-to-rags” story, and I’ll be darned if it’s not just as compelling as the opposite.