The Queen of Versailles

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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.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday July 20 2012
Duration: 100 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lauren Greenfield
Cast: David Siegel
Jackie Siegel

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Rothkopf doesn't really get it. Shakespeare wrote about the questions that face everyone, in the characters of kings and queens. This film is Shakespearean. It is brilliantly told. It is about our whole society. If the scene and the subjects are bigger than life, that just allows us to see it all more clearly. Most film reviewers, and certainly this one, don't really understand how to write about documentaries.