The Queen of Versailles is a character driven documentary that would be right at home on the E! Channel – but don’t let that put you off, it is high quality guilty pleasure viewing.
It tells the story of billionaire couple David and Jackie Siegel and how the economic crisis nearly turns their American Dream reality into a total nightmare - well, a nightmare by their standards, still a pretty great lifestyle by mine.
When we first meet David and Jackie they are constructing their new 90,000 square foot home based on the palace in Versailles. It would become the largest home in America, even bigger than the White House. The reason David gives for building something so large? Because he can.
David is the owner of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world. The documentary shows his company opening a new luxury complex in Las Vegas and this, along with the palace, become two major plot points. The successes and failures of the business are reflected in these two projects and we see firsthand the toll it takes on David and Jackie.It would be very easy to dislike the Siegels but the way the documentary is put together we get a balanced view of them as people and see familial interactions in the good times and the bad.
When his business goes badly David is quick to blame the bankers and how they let him become dependent on cheap money which is ironic as the tactics he claims they used are the same as the ones he uses in selling his timeshares to families. We see him as businessman, husband and father and overall he comes across as a likeable guy despite his flaws.
The star of the documentary is Jackie. At first glance it seems she is a trophy wife to a man 20 years her senior. A former Miss Florida, former model with blonde hair and obviously fake boobs, you might be quick to assume she’s an airhead or a gold digger, but you’d be wrong. As we get deeper into the documentary more is revealed about her past and there is a lot more to her than you might think. She is unyieldingly optimistic and it is clear that she really does love David and their eight children. She’s not an airhead either and while there are scenes of her loading up carts and carts of toys in Wal-Mart at Christmas when they are supposed to be cutting down on spending, at the end she admits that she didn’t know how bad things actually were and that she may have seemed stupid because she didn’t have the information.
There are a good few laughs to be found in The Queen of Versailles. David becomes a Victor Meldrew-esque grumpy, but funny, man when things take a turn for the worst, and in one particularly good scene Jackie asks a Hertz car rental man in the airport what the name of her driver will be only to realise she’ll have to drive it herself.
A certain attachment towards the characters is formed and I found myself even feeling a little bit sorry for Jackie when the news comes that their huge dream home has been foreclosed on by the banks.
Not a must-see film of the year but it was very entertaining and will definitely suck you in.