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With: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel, Virginia Nebab
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Lauren Greenfield
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and language
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/19/2012

The Queen of Versailles (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rich and Lamest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new documentary The Queen of Versailles made me depressed and made me feel sorry to be alive. It contains some useful information, I suppose, but I did not like these people, I hope never to meet them, and I wonder if the world wouldn't be a better place without them.

David Siegel -- who, I should note right here, has nothing to do with the filmmaking team of David Siegel and Scott McGehee -- made his fortune in time shares. That is, he rents out apartments to people who spend a couple of weeks per year in them, and he collects dozens of rents on a single space. He's so rich that he apparently helped to influence the rise of George W. Bush, and he brags about that, though he won't comment on the 2004 election, because he thinks it "may have been illegal."

Now, David has a wife. Her name is Jackie. She was once a beauty queen and perhaps a trophy wife. But now she's in her 40s, and she has become a pain in the neck. (Indeed, the 77 year-old Siegel is already flirting with 20-something Playboy playmates here, on camera.) Jackie has a brood of children, all raised by nannies, and she's a compulsive shopper. She spends most of her time trying to look like she's 20, while in reality, she looks at least 10 years older than her real age.

This documentary, directed by Lauren Greenfield, is partly focused on the house this couple begun to build in Florida. Inspired by Versailles, it quickly gained notoriety as the biggest house in America. Or, it would have been, if it had been finished. During the economic downturn, the Siegels lost just about everything and were forced to try to sell the mammoth tchotchke. Of course, no one would buy it.

Faced with real trouble, David begins to ignore Jackie, and Jackie takes out her frustrations by shopping -- perhaps not realizing that they have no more money to do so.

Greenfield treats all this like a low-down and vulgar reality show, training her camera on her subjects in such a way that they think they're being flattered, but they're actually being ridiculed. And, indeed, it's hard to think of anyone who might identify with these people, since 99% of America is poor, and the other 1% is probably embarrassed by the Siegels. (Maybe G.W. Bush would like this movie? More likely, he doesn't watch documentaries.)

The Queen of Versailles made me think of Grey Gardens, that great 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles. But somehow, the subjects of that movie, Jackie Onassis' outcast cousin "Little Edie" and aunt Edith Bouvier Beale, were treated truthfully. We could laugh at them, but it was not sneaky or underhanded. They did not feel manipulated so much as revealed. I think the Siegels have more to their story, or perhaps less, and director Greenfield couldn't quite decide which.
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