The new documentary The Queen of Versailles is a “riches to rags story” concerning the fall of Florida-based billionaire timeshare king David Siegel and the effect that his troubles have on his employers, children, and former model Jackie, the titular wife. The film begins as a document of the construction of the Siegels’ new 90,000 sq. ft. home, the largest in history. Inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the house includes everything from an ice skating rink to a stage to an observation deck that overlooks Disney World. The September 2008 stock market crash stalls construction indefinitely as David scrambles to find a way to rebuild his business, the eight Siegel children get used to commercial airlines and public schools, and Jackie attempts to hold the family together while curbing her spending.
It’s an interesting and timely story that won the director an award at Sundance, but it’s not the gleeful “let’s laugh at the rich people getting their due” story that you may be hoping for. Despite their aspirations of over-the-top grandeur, it’s difficult not to root for David and Jackie; they both came from humble beginnings, Jackie faced abuse in her past. Their charitable contributions are many and their support towards their children seemingly unending. Admittedly, it’s difficult to take this Real Housewife-like figure seriously with her always-pronounced cleavage and million-a-year shopping habit, but the laughs aren’t nearly as many as you would expect. The film’s strengths lie in the stories of those that surround the Siegels: the loyal nanny who hasn’t seen her own son in decades, David’s son from a previous marriage who stands by his father’s business decisions when no one else will, and the family’s chauffeur who must adjust to the changing times. The director does take some strange eleventh hour cheap shots at David that quickly paint him as an uncommunicative, business-driven hard-ass, but by then he’s already a likable business-driven hard-ass so his negative final statements really don’t hold a lot of water.
The Queen of Versailles ultimately illustrates that once you get past the whole money thing, rich people aren’t all that different from their counterparts.
The Queen of Versailles is now playing at the Ritz 5.