Director: Lauren Greenfield
Cast: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel
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Kill them with kindness. That’s the old adage for dealing with not very nice people. Director Lauren Greenfield seems to take it to heart for The Queen of Versailles, a documentary that depicts the lavish lifestyle of David and Jackie Siegel. The property mogul and his wife are at the pinnacle of the housing boom, his timeshare business never better. Their plan? To build a home. Not just any home: the biggest home in the US, modelled after none other than the Palace of Versailles.
Of course, there are no spoilers in revealing what happened next: the financial crisis. Today, the half-completed Florida property is something of an icon, an unfinished monument to unfettered wealth. Immortalised on screen, the Siegels themselves are the epitome of excess; too much money, too many children, too many dogs. Greenfield follows the couple as their bright idea turns into a white elephant, a once-pristine mansion slowly covered in dog turds.
But while David faces a doomed business and the laying off of staff, the director’s candid camera resists the urge to be cruel. Instead, Greenfield does something far more surprising: she treats them like human beings. There is some enjoyment in watching Jackie’s big-breasted trophy wife and David’s morally dubious timeshare empire come crashing down to the ground – but what strikes you more than schadenfreude is the sympathy you feel for the couple and their formerly nannied kids. It’s not really satire; it’s reality. And Greenfield shows us the fragile nature of the consumerist, capitalist attitudes that define us all, Versailles or no. It’s a kind portrayal of the couple – which kills the American Dream even more.
The Siegels sued her soon afterwards.