Not the French palace—this is Florida—but still a home where the privileged few lose their heads: Before this documentary gets around to the dark (and good) stuff, The Queen of Versailles invites a lot of smug laughter, much of it on the classist wavelength of reality TV. What a good thing, the film implies, that we’re not billionaires like David and silicone-inflated Jackie Siegel, with their gauche taste in self-glorifying oil paintings, gold-hued decor and multimillion-dollar mansions. Every cutaway to their McDonald’s takeout bags or fluffy white puppies (there must be a dozen of them) emphasizes a bedrock tackiness that will convert your audience into a snorting gang of Marxists—at least for a while.
The turning point (and it comes not a moment too soon) is when the real-estate bubble bursts in 2008, forcing a family that never had to economize to crumble. Director Lauren Greenfield has a catty eye, but she’s not after simple schadenfreude as the Siegels’ time-share hotels are foreclosed, the kids have to fly coach [gasp], and poops go unscooped by a phalanx of laid-off servants. Rather, a human dimension blooms, revealing both good and bad: Jackie, a former model, becomes needier of her husband’s affections, half-blind to the realities around them. David, cranky in his bill-laden office, begins to see her as an expensive toy who won’t turn off the lights. Each of them has a dollar value over their head; the doc’s post-Bush fallout is worth sifting through, even if it’s hard to fully care for a pair so incognizant of their own culpability.
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