The Queen of Versailles


The Queen of Versailles

David and Jackie Siegel, power couple.

(2012) Documentary (Magnolia) Jackie Siegel, David Siegel, Virginia Nebab, Lauren Greenfield, Richard Siegel, Oscar Goodman, Tina Martinez. Directed by Lauren Greenfield

 

The American Dream; we all have it to at least one extent or another. We want to be free of the cares of the world;  we want to have the freedom to do what we want when we want. That’s the freedom that money and wealth provide. Not all of us want to live extravagantly but most of us would like to at least live comfortably.

At first glance, the Siegels seem to be the embodiment of the American Dream. David is the owner of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately-owned timeshare company in the world. He is a billionaire many times over. He lives here in Orlando in the exclusive Isleworth community, where such celebrities as Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal live.

He is married to Jackie, a beauty queen, former model and incongruously a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with an engineering degree. She’s beautiful, gracious and vivacious and 30 years younger than he. She’s also quite fertile – she and David have seven children together and are raising an eighth, the teenage daughter of Jackie’s sister.

The 26,000 square foot home – what Jackie terms a “starter mansion” – isn’t large enough for the Siegels however, so they set out to build a new one on the shores of a lake with a nightly view of the fireworks over in Disney. It just started out being a larger home but as the Siegels began adding in all the amenities they wanted – from a bowling alley to a functional baseball diamond which would double as a parking lot for their event parties – it soon became larger than life. When completed, it would be the largest private home under a single roof in America. The Siegels, who were inspired by the architecture of the Paris hotel in Las Vegas as well as the summer palace of the French royalty in France named it after the latter, Versailles, without a hint of irony.

They are riding at the top and throw lavish parties for the Miss America pageant, a program close to both of their hearts – Jackie as a former beauty pageant winner and David…well, as a man who likes beautiful women. Then comes 2008 and the economic meltdown. David’s business depends heavily on loans from banks and when they’re no longer lending, his business suffers. Suddenly, the Siegels are forced to cut back. Their staff goes from more than twenty down to four.

It turns out to be something of a trauma. David is forced to lay off workers, clearly an act that bothers him very much. When Jackie goes back to her hometown of Binghamton, New York she doesn’t fly on the private jet – she has to go on a commercial airliner which is startling to her children who wonder why so many people are waiting in line at the airport. Shopping trips are to Wal*Mart instead of to the high end retailers of Gucci and Tiffany. Construction on Versailles is halted and Westgate’s new centerpiece property, the Planet Hollywood Towers becomes the object of desire for banks who almost want David to go into foreclosure while he stubbornly tries to hold on to everything.

David boasts early on that he was responsible for George W. Bush getting elected, although he declines to give specifics, only giving us a bit of a twinkling eye and a wink about quasi-legalities. The irony there is that Dubya would preside over the meltdown that would caused him so much heartache.

Looking at all the above, it might be easy to think of the Siegels as arrogant one percenters who got what they deserved but I didn’t wind up seeing them that way. Jackie has a heart as big as they come, and she’s completely disingenuous. Sure, she is ditzy in places but we all have brain farts from time to time but she’s genuine. She’s a lot smarter than she sometimes lets on – between the cleavage and the Botox you probably get the opinion that she’s all sizzle and no steak – but I get the feeling that she uses her looks as a defense. People probably have underestimated Jackie her entire life. Brains can be a curse for a beautiful woman, if you subscribe to the ignorance is bliss theory.

David shows signs of stress near the end of the movie which is understandable, although in interviews he says that it was due to the presence of the filmmakers, whom he has since leveled a lawsuit at for misrepresenting the financial state of his company, which he claims is far more solvent than what the filmmakers let on. To be fair, Greenfield made it seem like Westgate was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy at times which, considering that David is still despite everything that has occurred, a wealthy man, seems unlikely.

The story of David and Jackie is our story, believe it or not. They may not necessarily be able to relate to the problems of the middle class well but by the same token we don’t really relate to theirs. The prospect of losing things you dreamed of and worked for is just as painful for a billionaire as it is for you and me. David and I probably don’t see eye to eye on a lot of our politics, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a decent man. Jackie and I don’t have the same ideas when it comes to shopping but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a good woman.

I wound up wishing the Siegels well, which was something I didn’t expect. It’s very easy to paint all the top one percent with the same brush and declare them evil because they’ve had amazing success. I have no doubt David Siegel earned his success many times over – even in his 70s he is a driven, hard worker. I can’t begrudge anyone success – after all, it’s what I aspire to myself . I just begrudge those who have it working to prevent others from achieving it. Those that buy politicians and get them to enact laws designed to keep the super wealthy rich and the rest of us in our place as they see it, well, those are the actions I can’t stand. Those who simply want to live their lives in the lap of the luxury that they can afford, while I can’t help but envy them I can’t bring myself to hate them. After all, to a starving family in East Africa I probably appear to be rich as Croesus. I could probably be doing more to help them than I do. However, I would never support laws that would remove programs that they need to survive so that I could keep every penny of my wealth. I would hope more of the one percent would feel that way. I certainly hope David and Jackie Siegel do.

REASONS TO GO: A cautionary tale. You wind up liking the Siegels even if you come in wanting to despise them.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too much dog poop. Hard to feel sympathy for the Siegels.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film crew had extraordinary access to the Siegels, staying in their home several days every month for nearly three years.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100. The reviews are extremely positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”

CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION LOVERS: Throughout the film, we see the Siegels attitude of more is better; they aren’t shy about enjoying their wealth (not that any of us would be either if we had that kind of money); shopping trips – even to Wal*Mart – are epic excursions. They have a private jet, a fleet of limos and enormous closets full of clothes although David probably doesn’t – he seems a little bit more down to earth when it comes to his cash.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2012


August 17, 2012

THE EXPENDABLES 2

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude van Damme. Directed by Simon West

After one of their own is killed, the team of badass mercenaries known as The Expendables set out to kick ass, take names and sip chamomile tea, and they’re all out of tea. So, they decide to rid the world of a whacko who wants to shift the balance of power by stealing weapons grade plutonium. No, not the president of Iran – some other nut job.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, language and brief sexuality)

2016: Obama’s America

(Rocky Mountain) Dinesh D’souza, Shelby Steele, Paul Vitz, Alice Dewey. From the conservative author of the book The Roots of Obama’s Rage and the producer of the intelligent design promoting Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed comes this anti-Obama documentary which is, essentially, a series of Fox News talking heads explaining why the president sucks, how his policies will turn America into a barren wasteland and why the people who voted for him did so to prove that they aren’t racist. Michael Moore, you may respond.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for thematic elements, brief language and smoking images)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

(Disney) Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Garner, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt. A childless couple desperate to have a family but unable to, dream up the perfect child and put all their wishes into a box that they bury in the backyard. When a magical storm takes their powerful wish and deposits a child onto their doorstep, their lives – and the lives of those who live in their hometown – are transformed.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language)

ParaNorman

(Focus) Starring the voices of Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee. A boy who can see ghosts is the laughing stock of his town. But when a witch’s curse raises the dead, his gift may be the only thing separating his town from utter calamity. This from the people who brought you Coraline.  

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language)

The Queen of Versailles

(Magnolia) Virginia Nebab, David Siegal, Jackie Siegal. Timeshare billionaires decide to build themselves a mansion which turns out to be the largest house in the United States. Their plans are threatened by the economic crash of 2008. The 1% begin to discover life on the other side.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and language)

Sparkle

(Tri-Star) Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps. The youngest of three sisters has big musical dreams and the talent to back it up. Not only that, she happens to be in one of the musical meccas of all time – Detroit in the 1960s. Struggling to become a star is hard enough but there are issues besetting her family that threaten to tear it apart.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking)