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The Queen of Versailles Reviewed

The Queen of Versailles Reviewed

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The Queen of Versailles is a stunning documentary film by photographer Lauren Greenfield. The film depicts David A. Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, and his family as they build the largest and most expensive single-family house in the United States, and the crisis they go through as the US economy declines. The documentary won the U.S. Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival — and is now able to rent and own on iTunes, DVD and other distribution channels.

The recession turned The Queen of Versailles, a documentary attempting to chronicle the excesses of America’s super-rich, into something much more affecting. Jackie, the 43-year-old former beauty-queen wife of 74-year-old billionaire David, would no doubt offer up McDonald’s fare instead. This documentary, in which she is shown toting bags from the fast-food chain even as she steps out of a limousine, makes it clear that money can’t buy taste. They had plans to build the largest single-family home in the United States, near Orlando, Florida – a 90,000 sq ft palace with 15 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, 11 kitchens, six pools, a full-service health spa, indoor skating rink and a stadium tennis court seating 200 people. It would be loosely modelled on the floor plan of Versailles – though Louis XVI had overlooked the need for a sushi kitchen – and named after it.

“What drew me to this subject was that I got interested in the idea of a house as the ultimate expression of the American Dream,” states director Lauren Greenfield.

The film has met strong critical approval, earning a critical approval score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (93 of 98 reviews being positive), with an average score of 8/10 and the consensus statement, “The Queen of Versailles is a timely, engaging, and richly drawn portrait of the American Dream improbably composed of equal parts compassion and schadenfreude.”

For a “The Queen of Versailles” follow-up, The New York Times reports: “David Siegel’s lawsuit claims that “The Queen of Versailles” is a fraud — “more fictional than real,” it charges, describing the film as a “a staged theatrical production, albeit using nonprofessionals in the starring roles (as themselves).” What he means is that what we see on screen — dramatic though it surely is, and metaphorical as we are likely to view it — is less a reflection of reality than a stringing together of out-of-context scenes designed to provide Ms. Greenfield her narrative arc.”

The Queen of Versailles is a “must view” documentary. Even though you want to, you can’t look away for this slow-motion accident. Surprisingly, Jackie Siegel comes off better than expected. With likable charm, and extremely street-smart, you actually root for Jackie. You want to see Versailles completed, to see her living in the lap of luxury, and to become the next reality TV star. On the other-hand, David Siegel is a miserable sot — while on his way up and on his descent down. He’s a terrible father to his older and younger children, not expressing love or compassion. Hopefully, Jackie can get a big fat payday from an E! reality TV series and can divorce this miserable curmudgeon.

Here’s reviews from other notable critics:

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“Knowing what I already knew about “The Queen of Versailles” when I walked into the movie, I fully expected to hate Jackie and David Siegel, a couple we meet in the process of building themselves the largest private home in America. What I left with was not hatred. I disapprove of the values they represent, but I also find them fascinating and just slightly lovable.” – from Roger Ebert

“In the downward economic spiral, David admits that his wife is more like “another child”; she is kept in the dark about his finances and tells Greenfield that, with the film, she will finally learn about her true situation. The paradox of wealth without refinement remains unexamined but emerges as a metaphor for the American Dream itself.” – from Richard Brody

“David and Jackie Siegel are no better than any of the rest of us. That may go without saying. But the reverse is also true, and Ms. Greenfield’s real achievement is to disarm the reflex of superiority that the spectacle of her subjects’ way of life may provoke in some viewers.” – from A.O. Scott

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