An Audience with The Queen of Versailles

Roger Ebert:

When we’re discussing who to invite to a dinner party, my wife Chaz and I sometimes use the shorthand, “good value for money,” which indicates guests expected to be entertaining. The Siegels would qualify.

Queen of Versailles posterLet me just place some background on the table. David Siegel is a billionaire who founded Westgate Resorts, “the largest time-share company on the planet,” I believe he says. Jackie is his third wife, and although she is clearly a trophy and has the boobs to prove it, she is also the mother of seven of his eight children, was born into humble circumstances, refused to become somebody’s secretary and earned an engineering degree instead.

Their new home in Florida has 10 kitchens and a bowling alley. I never learned how many rooms it has, but while it’s under construction, she gives a tour to Lauren Greenfield, the film’s director — and when Greenfield asks, “Will this be your bedroom?” Jackie says, “Oh, no … this is my closet.”

Ebert liked The Queen of Versailles more than I did.  A number of critics claim that the couple featured here are sympathetic, even lovable.  I disagree — I think they are rather contemptuous people who deserve their fate.  I did feel bad though for the children and servants — but not that bad.

The most remarkable aspect of this film is that it fell into the fortuitous circumstance of filming when the family was flush with money, looking to rid themselves of cash with all possible haste — and then continuing the story after they are nearly wiped out, their business in collapse, relegated to complaining that the lights in the house are being left on and bemoaning every last expenditure.  The before/after story is the great strength of the film.

But my problem with The Queen is that it is too one-note, and feels like an extended episode of the Kardashians.  I’ve said it before: great documentaries are not fundamentally different than any other great movies: they must have a strong, engrossing story — and this one felt a little predictable and ho-hum.  But I’m being too negative.  This was an entertaining movie, at times quite humorous — so overall a marginal recommendation.  If you like the preview you’ll like the movie, and it’s free to watch on Netflix.  6/10

Oh, and one more thing: not only is this house they are building ridiculously oversized, but it is hideously ugly.  Good luck finding a taker.  A potential theme of money over taste — as exemplified by the house — was either over the head of the filmmakers, or considered too touchy (I suspect the former).  Either way, a missed opportunity.

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