The Queen of Versailles

Movie Information

The Story: A look into the lifestyles of the super rich and ultra tacky — and their fall from grace when the stock market crashes. The Lowdown: Undeniably fascinating in its depiction of mindless consumerism and conspicuous consumption at its most virulent, but I'm not sure you'll take anything away from it other than bemused outrage.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Starring: Jackie Siegel, David Siegel, Virginia Nebel
Rated: PG

I think I would like (if that’s the right word) The Queen of Versailles better if I actually knew what documentarian Lauren Greenfield was after — and if I could get away from the whiff of reality TV that clings to the whole thing. It’s not that it’s a bad film. In fact, it’s anything but (even though Greenfield offers very little that is stylish or cinematically creative). The film — regardless of how much was staged (which is a lot apparently) — exudes an inescapable fascination. Its depiction of a fabulously wealthy couple — neither of whom appear to have a single iota of taste — redefining the term “conspicuous consumption” until their over-priviliged world comes sort of crashing to Earth is hard to turn away from. If nothing else, their utter cluelessness provides a solid 100 minutes of appalling entertainment. It’s another matter that you may spend most of it wanting to slap its two leads and ask them, “What the hell is wrong with you?” (I admit I’d probably use a stronger word than “hell.”)

Theoretically, this was meant to be the story of timeshare billionaire David Siegel and his bleached blonde, boob-job, trophy wife Jackie building their 90,000-square-foot dream home, Versailles. (One assumes they thought 100,000 feet would have been showy.) They were, we learn, feeling cramped in their 26,000-square-foot bungalow and so opted to recreate and redefine Versailles (you know, the palace in France). Their Versailles, however, boasts an exterior copied from the top floors of a hotel in Las Vegas. (In truth, it looks a lot like an engorged version of any number of pretentious Florida homes.) This monstrous mausoleum of bad taste is so big that one of Jackie’s friends mistakes a framed-in closet for the bedroom. (Yes, well.) The logic behind building this exercise in consumer mania (what can anyone do with 10 kitchens?) comes down to building it because they can. Or rather, they thought they could — until the stock market crash of 2008. This is what provides the film’s drama — the spectacle of the Siegels on a budget, especially Jackie, who wanders through life in a state of utter bewilderment. She honestly seems to think they’re just regular people. (You mean Hertz doesn’t provide a driver?)

While she makes bizarre attempts at economizing, her husband — who had previously boasted about single-handedly getting George W. Bush elected in 2000 (in ways that “might not be legal”) — stubbornly holds onto his opulent new timeshare building in Vegas and blames everyone else for letting him borrow money so freely. (It’s made clear at one point that if he’d let go of this one property, he’d be fine.) It’s very hard to feel sorry for these people — though apparently some do. Yet it’s hard not to keep watching them — trainwreck style. I mean how can you not just marvel at a woman who had one of her dogs turned into a kind of miniature polar bear rug (it was flattened by a car and apparently couldn’t be stuffed) that festoons the grand piano? These are people who have themselves painted as Lancelot and Guinevere and see nothing tacky about it. Oh, these folks are definitely worth a look — from the safety of a theater seat. Rated PG for thematic elements and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “The Queen of Versailles

  1. Ken Hanke

    I did! Actually, it did surprisingly good business (for a documentary) opening weekend, so somebody saw it.

  2. Orbit DVD

    This film reminds me of earlier Erroll Morris. Would that be a fair assumption?

  3. Xanadon't

    Only Errol Morris I’ve seen is Mr. Death (1999), which I found fascinating but didn’t change my life. I’ve toyed with watching The Thin Blue Line a number of times, and oddly enough almost picked Tabloid off TV Eye’s new release wall yesterday, but instead went with one of the couple Jim Jarmusch film’s I haven’t yet seen.

    Long story short, I’m not helpful in the matter either. But hey, I’ve finally got internet access back after being without for two weeks so I had to post something.

  4. Edwin Arnaudin

    QUEEN and TABLOID both feature ridiculous subjects who the audience laughs at instead of laughing with. Also, Jackie and Joyce are both fame hounds and, post-release, folks from each film have criticized and/or sued the filmmakers for the film’s “inaccurate” depiction of them.

    That said, TABLOID is by far the better film.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’ve finally got internet access back after being without for two weeks so I had to post something.

    Well, I’d wondered what had become of you.

  6. Orbit DVD

    I guess this film reminds me of FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL… which I STRONGLY recommend.

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