‘Queen of Versailles’ offers rich insight into financial crisis

Brett Stover

Hermitage image used with permission under fair use doctrine from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2125666/
It’s hard to imagine feeling sympathetic toward someone who owns a private jet, gets Botox at age 45 and buys $5 million worth of marble for an unfinished house, yet Lauren Greenfield makes the audience not only empathize with the plights of the people in “The Queen of Versailles” but also feel compassion for them.
“Queen” centers around Jacquie Siegel, the third wife of David Siegel.  Coming from a middle class background and a surviving a failed, abusive marriage, Jacquie learns to enjoy the “good life” that comes from opulent surroundings and chauffeured limousine rides.   She attends parties with the likes of Donald Trump and President George W. Bush.
Lavishness is the focus of the first part of the movie, which centers on their lives before the bubble burst in 2008. Their hubris leads them to have large parties–one that hosts every woman in the Miss America pageant–and hang enormous paintings of themselves and their children, some with them dressed as British and French royalty throughout their house.  David even insinuates Bush would not have won the 2000 presidential election without him, saying  he cannot talk about the 2004 election because what he did was probably not legal.
David Siegel is the CEO of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare corporation in the world.  Since its founding, Westgate has grown to more than 20 resorts, including a tower in Las Vegas, NV, a focal point of “Queen.”  During the economic recession of 2008, banks stopped funding some of his projects, and mortgages fell through, forcing David to lay off more than 6,000 employes.
During the opening third of the movie, the viewer laughs at the Siegels’ excess including the 90,000-square-foot house modeled on France’s Palace of Versailles, the source of the movie’s title.  However, when the family fires all but five of their maids and nannies, the effect of the family’s crisis changes the feel of the film. In “Queen” Jacquie and David appear aware they need to cut back on their expenses but seem unable to do so.
Though the film is tightly edited, a few scenes which bring the viewer into the lives of the maids working for the Siegel seem stuck in merely to show a contrast between the Siegels and middle-class America, but no contrast is needed as most watching at True/False already know how life is for the middle class.
Still, Greenfield’s Cinéma vérité approach in “Queen” makes its characters fully human.
There is still time to see “The Queen of Versailles” at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Jessie Auditorium or 1:15 p.m. Sunday at the Globe Theater near Ragtag.
By Brett Stover