Consumed by excess.
DIRECTED BY LAUREN GREENFIELD
A document of the near-downfall of America’s most ludicrously lavish personal empire, Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles delivers a hearty helping of eat-the-rich schadenfreude. Greenfield’s subjects are the Siegels—76-year-old David, billionaire CEO of Westgate Resorts, and Jackie, his 30-years-younger, silicone-augmented trophy wife—who, at the crest of the aughts credit bubble, began construction on the largest single-family dwelling in the United States. Likely also the most tasteless, the 90,000-square-foot monstrosity was modelled on Louis XIV’s château at Versailles, but with the crash of 2008 quickly became less a palace than a punchline.
As the Siegels are forced to go about tightening their designer belts, however, The Queen of Versailles invites us to temper our relish at seeing the appallingly nouveau riche couple get their deserved comeuppance. And Greenfield finds figures worthy of unlikely compassion, particularly in the resolutely bubbly Jackie. (This despite moments like the one in which, after subjecting her spoiled brood the relative indignity of a commercial flight, she approaches a car-rental counter and inquires, to stunned silence, about the name of her driver.)
David proves harder to warm to, thanks in part to boasts like his claim that he personally pulled the extra-legal strings that saw George W. Bush elected in 2000. And it certainly doesn’t help that he minted his timeshare fortune by furnishing aspirational, working-class Americans (or “mooches,” according to one Westgate exec) with precisely the same sort of cheap credit that precipitated 2008′s collapse. But even he earns some sympathy when he’s reduced to the role of penny-pinching, hectored husband, pleading with his kids to reduce the hydro bill by remembering to turn off the lights.
Above all, The Queen of Versailles‘ greatest virtue is how effectively its lessons scale. To laugh pitilessly at the Siegels is to deny the extent to which their propensity to live beyond their means will feel familiar to many—albeit writ frightfully large. In this manner, Greenfield’s film is a fascinating funhouse reflection of consumerist society generally. Its images are bloated and grotesque, but ultimately they’re our own.