The American Dream’s opposite. A rags to riches story, only backwards. A glorious fall from grace, unexpected, shocking, eye-opening, and also graceful and inspiring. The Queen Of Versailles starts as something that we know will end a certain way, only to shock us by completely changing direction halfway through, bringing everything upside down and leaving us all speechless. What makes this film different and very much worth-watching is the fact that writer-director, Lauren Greenfield, sets up a story which needs to be carried through by a specific group of characters, but then, as the direction changes, these characters transform as well, unexpectedly, surprisingly, charmingly, with love and respect for each other. One watches two stories in this film: The way up and the way down. And the moral conclusions resulting from their case study are unexpectedly optimistic and warm.
The documentary follows billionaire “timeshare king” David Siegel and his Miss-Florida wife Jackie, during their years of incredible wealth and the construction of their massive (90,000 square foot) palace/home inspired by the Versailles, in Florida. Aspiring to become the biggest house in the United States, David and Jackie get comfortable and cocky in the fact that they can do whatever they want, live wherever they want, raise as many kids as they want and of course, buy practically anything.
Until everything falls apart. The wealth is lost, the staff is let go, the house is left unfinished and buying things, as well as love and affection, becomes impossible. Anyone watching expects the couple to break up, the beautiful Jackie to leave her much older husband, their employees and assistants to turn against them after they’ve been fired, the kids to collapse when they realise that the world is not theirs after all.
This is exactly what makes The Queen Of Versailles such an optimistic tale, despite the fact that it’s the ultimate fall from grace. None of this happens. Jackie sticks with her husband the whole way up as well as down. The children accept that the universe won’t revolve around them from now on and they’re fine with that. Also, the company’s staff and the house’s assistants swear by their employers’ kindness and generosity. In other words, although we begin watching convinced that all the so-called-love that these characters share is based on money, very soon we’re proven wrong and the most spoiled, cocky and excessive people, turn to also be the easiest to adapt and the most charming in their fall.
The billionaire himself, although depressed and disappointed, is also determined to make it work — to make a comeback and to return to his business and wealth even stronger than before. His character is heart-breaking, yet strong. His confidence is broken, but his willpower will not compromise. At the same time, he can be harsh, his grief is evident, his wife doesn’t feel like a trophy anymore, rather, she’s yet another burden on his shoulders. He is alone, trapped and hurt. But he has done is once and he knows he can do it again.
On the other hand, although Jackie stands by her husband’s side on their way down, it doesn’t feel like she, herself, is going down at all. A woman who started with nothing, is back where she started from. She knows how to be here and she knows how to be up there. She prefers the highs, but she really doesn’t mind the lows, as long as David is ok with them and as long as she can remember every day’s new reality. Both seem to be very difficult.
All characters are eccentric, spoiled, overindulging. But Lauren Greenfield doesn’t make them look fake or arrogant for a second. She highly respects her subjects, as they respect themselves too. Jackie might not appear bright, but she certainly is, and David might come across big-headed, but he is only ambitious, a hard worker with the need to be noticed, respected and admired by many. The Queen Of Versailles is not the type of film you think it is. It’s not stupid and it’s not predictable. Its characters are stereotypical, but their behaviour isn’t. And their vices are not as far away from ours as we’d sometimes like to think. In fact, they’re too close for comfort.
The Queen Of Versailles at IMDb
The Queen Of Versailles at Wikipedia
The Queen Of Versailles at Rotten Tomatoes
The Queen Of Versailles official film website
The Queen Of Versailles (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb