By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) -
It turns out the economic recession of 2008 didn’t just hit the common man hard. Some of the richest people in America had their fortunes evaporate, especially ones who were way over-extended with their investments or personal spending. I know, boo-fucking-hoo, right?
We… *sob*… had to sell the jet
The Queen of Versailles takes on the very difficult task of making us feel bad for one such billionaire couple, Jackie and David Siegel, the “King of Time Shares” who was in the middle of building the largest single-family residence in the United states, modeled pretentiously on Versailles, when the recession hit. Now they’re trying to offload the unfinished home to whoever will take it, while scrambling to preserve their business and lifestyle.
Somehow this documentary actually succeeds in its goal. It’s extremely on the surface to resist empathizing with Jackie, a fake-breasted bottle blonde trophy wife who reveals at every turn just how out of touch and full of herself she is. However, as the film goes along we discover out understanding and even pity for her. She’s a former engineer of all things who gave up her career for the beauty queen circuit. A marriage that may have been tagged as materialism-based yielded eight (!) kids and she’s clearly in love with her much older husband. It’s he who’s the emotionally withholding prick.
These cookies are not for you
Director Lauren Greenfield takes the Errol Morris approach, using his interview-focused techniques and even a similar soundtrack to perfectly complement the face-to-faces, illuminating looks at the economics of timeshares, and the contrasting shots of opulence and abandonment that fill her film.
While The Queen of Versailles devotes a lot of time to trying to plumb the psyche of the two main characters, perhaps it doesn’t dig deep enough. Of course, there are no pat, easy answers in real life, but you still walk away from the film wondering why material things and outward appearances are so damn important to this product of a seemingly thoroughly pleasant middle-class upbringing.
Something feels Real Housewives-level trashy about all of this. Despicable reality TV editing doesn’t factor in, thankfully, but a lot of the thrills are the same. And just like that most irresponsible of mediums, it toes the line of exposing these people and enabling them.
This is what enablement creates
The Queen of Versailles is an eye-opening, surprisingly empathetic documentary about one of the hardest groups to empathize with out there, the mega-rich (and time share tycoons to boot). That it makes us feel for them anyway shows just how good it is.
Take a Drink: whenever someone complains about money
Take a Drink: whenever someone acknowledges the camera or filming process
Take a Drink: whenever someone says something incredibly out of touch
Do a Shot: whenever you see a timeshare pitch