Festival

Sundance Film Festival

2012

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES: Watch the throne


Kim Kardashian’s gaudy fairytale nuptials lasted just 72 days.

Louis XIV, in all his decadence, ruled France for just over 72 years, making him the longest-reigning monarch in European history.

Somewhere in between lies Jackie Siegel, the wonderfully tacky, basketball-bosomed protagonist of Lauren Greenfield’s rags-to-riches-to-rags documentary, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, which made its world premiere the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival.

Greenfield, an award-winning photographer whose 2006 documentary THIN tackled women with eating disorders, introduced her film as a tale of “what happens when life doesn’t go as planned and what’s found and what’s lost along the way.”

When we’re first introduced to Jackie, she’s writhing around uncomfortably on the lap of her curmudgeon of a husband, David Siegel—picture the senile grandpa in UP—who’s perched atop a solid gold throne. The Siegels, and their eight nanny-raised children, are living the high life replete with private jets, yachts, and all gold everything. Jackie, a former IBM engineer-cum-Miss Florida ’95 with a penchant for low-cut, boob-hugging dresses and stilettos, says she spends an average of $1 million per year on shopping. The hubby, meanwhile, is known as “the timeshare king,” operating 28 timeshare properties in 10 states under the banner of Westgate Resorts—the crown jewel being the PH Towers Westgate, an outrageously opulent Vegas skyscraper. Siegel, who is thirty years older than Jackie and loves ogling twentysomething Miss America contestants, often jokes that when she turns 40, he’ll “trade her for two twenty-year-olds.” Classy.

Not content with their lavish 26,000 square-foot mansion, dubbed ‘Seagull Island,’ the Orlando-based clan commenced construction on a 90,000 square-foot mega-mansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles, boasting 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, and the distinction of being the largest house in America.

Then, in Sept. 2008, it all came to an end. With the stock market crash, Siegel’s Westgate timeshare empire, which was long guilty of subprime mortgage lending to people who couldn’t afford them via timeshare sales, came crashing down, with Siegel forced to liquidate $350 million in assets. He attempted to unload his unfinished palace, which he had sunk $50 million into, for $75 million—to no avail—and Jackie and the family are forced to live on a budget, including—GASP—flying commercial. In one hilarious culture shock scene, Jackie asks a Hertz employee, “What’s my driver’s name?”

*David Siegel, it should be noted, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Orlando federal court against the filmmakers and the Sundance Film Festival that claims press releases used to promote the documentary are defamatory, and claims that his timeshare empire collapsed, his palace is in ruin, and that he and his family have experienced a “rags-to-riches-to-rags story” are untrue—despite Siegel uttering that very line in the film.

As the Siegel family falls further and further into relative poverty, their dream mega-mansion transforms into a Grey Gardens-esque ghost manor. The Seagull Island home is covered in dog doo and pets drop dead from lack of care. One can’t help but view the Siegels, for all their delusions of grandeur, as a metaphor-caricature for the current recession. Against your better nature, you find yourself rooting for these maniac spenders to regain their former glory, making THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, in some ways, a bedazzled version of last year’s Sundance subprime saga, MARGIN CALL.

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