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Monday, August 13, 2012

'Queen of Versailles' is worth a look

Magnolia Pictures

It is amazing that the Queen of Versailles (Jackie Siegel) never loses her temper.  Nor is she moody.  She is quite likable, pretty, and always provocatively dressed.

This movie is about the everyday lives of one couple (the Siegels), the ego of Jackie's husband (David), who is the developer of the largest condominium projects in the U.S., and the construction of their 90,000 square foot house, the largest house in the U.S. which practically collapses under the weight of the 2008 fall of the House of Banks and Lenders.

David and Jackie Siegel/Magnolia Pictures

Despite what you may have read, this show is by no means a comedy, but a sad reality demonstration about consumerism and its excess.

And if you ever wanted a peek inside a McMansion McMansion (and more) and how the very rich are different, now's your chance. 

David Siegel, the antagonist and driver of this documentary, treats his family, including his wife, like the little dogs which run around the house making natural deposits indoors, except Siegel is nicer to the pets. 

While waiting on the completion of the "big" house, they live in 25,000 square feet with their seven children and the daughter of Jackie's brother, a remarkably mature girl, like her cousin, the Siegels' oldest daughter, both of whom seem to have more street smarts than Jackie who is somewhat naive. 

In an interview (all the subjects are interviewed repeatedly), the daughter says her mom was probably a "trophy wife" for her dad who is 30 years older.  Who would have guessed?

The children seem well-adjusted and pleasant enough, a surprise and likely due to nanny care which contributes to Jackie continuing to bear children, she says. 

Magnolia Pictures

When 2008 strikes and the money supply shrinks, things begin to go awry.  The household staff is cut from 19 persons to four.  No help for the pet menagerie! 

PETA alert!

Jackie discovers a pet lizard has died from lack of water and food, and a daughter says it's because no one would take her to the pet store.  (You can only get water at a pet store?) 

One of the sons says "Lizard? I didn't know we had one." (It is not your usual standard three-inch green lizard, but one of those special ones, probably from Texas.)

There is also a pet python which Jackie worries has possibly eaten two new puppies missing somewhere in the house.  David has kindly had two of Jackie's deceased dogs stuffed, and they    decorate the house, one in a glass case.  If only animals could talk.

Instead of a "rags to riches story," David calls it a tale of "riches to rags."

He experiences difficulty paying the notes on the houses and all his developments and worries, quite naturally, about money and the future, but neglects to inform his wife just how bad things really are.  Jackie picks up hints, however, when the children are moved from private to public school (horrors!), and she learns at the airport that a rental car (must she?) comes sans driver, and they really should turn off so many lights and who left the front door open? 

When riding on a commercial aircraft, the children want to know what all the strangers are doing on their airplane.  (It is simply a riot.)

The love and affection Jackie has for David is obvious throughout the movie, but in one scene, he rejects her and says "no, I don't want to kiss you."

Jackie (more than once): "When I turn 40, you said you were going to trade me in for two 20-year-olds." 

David:  "Oh yeah?  60 will be better, and then I can trade you in for three." He is smitten by a Miss America who comes to their house for some kind of celebration with all the other state beauty queens and appears intermittently later.  (Please, how do I join his fan club?)

He claims he personally got George Bush II elected to the presidency, but when asked how, responds that it must be kept secret since it may be unlawful.  Certainly! The Siegels' houses are in Florida, not the whole state, but in and around Orlando.

Why did they do it?  Why did the Siegels permit a camera crew to film them and their children?  Why do subjects allow this invasion of privacy?  Oh, they like celebrity.  I forgot.  Nonetheless, it is painful to watch the dissolution of the marriage and project its effects upon the children.

The film is solid evidence that some is never enough and if the Siegels are ever able to complete and move into "Versailles," (now on the market for $75 million), can 120,000 square feet be far behind?  Do the Miami Dolphins have an indoor field?

The movie is inspiring:  It will inspire you to curb your spending, to spend less than you make, to count your blessings you are smarter and more level-headed than the raging ego which consumes David Siegel whose mantra is to be the biggest billionaire and beat everyone else at the game and announce it in the biggest and most extravagant way possible, including trumping (can't resist) the Donald.  But, is that the mantra of us all?

Queen of Versailles will be nominated for Academy Award for Best Documentary (Lauren Greenfield, director), and, I hope, for best original score (Jeff Beal), and I thought the cinematography was excellent.  (Ms. Greenfield won at Sundance.)

The credits reveal many more females than usual who directed, executed, and produced the film. Congratulations to all.

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