Synopsis: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on America’s biggest private home, inspired by Versailles. During the next two years, their empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis.
“I spend $1m a year on clothes, Here are my $70k Gucci crocodile skin boots. And these are my $10k ostrich feather pants.” I vomited a little in my mouth when Jacqueline Siegel was describing the contents of her two story wardrobe in her 26000 sq ft home. The problem? It just wasn’t big enough for her, her kids, her husband all her crap.
Just before this her husband, billionaire douchebag David Siegel had offered up this pearl of wisdom: “Everyone wants to be rich. If they don’t, they’re probably dead”. Nice.
I couldn’t wait to watch these unbelievable dicks get humbled.
If big cars and large houses are compensating for something lacking in the trouser area, then David Siegel must have a tiny, tiny wang. For his legacy was to build two things in honour of his life’s achievements. Firstly, the biggest brightest new tower building on the Las Vegas strip. And secondly to build America’s largest private home. A $100m 90,000 sq ft mega-mansion, “inspired by Versailles”.
The Queen of Versailles is a perfect example of right place, right time film making. When it started out this was going to be a view on the skewed idea of the modern American Dream, perfectly embodied by the construction of Versailles, a shining beacon of ultimate capitalism. That was early 2008.
When the markets crashed though what Lauren Greenfield was able to capture was the most extreme example of the truth behind the American Dream. That it is all built on the sands of cheap credit, just waiting to crumble and fall. Now their record breaking construction project was the perfect example of the other end of the American Dream. Like so many others, sat half finished and in negative equity.
The fact that David and Jacqueline Siegel continued to let Greenfield intrude and film their continued demise into relative poverty demonstrates a stunning arrogance that the situation they found themselves in was a blip (him) and a stunning ego driven by a desperation to be in front of the camera (her).
You see, David Siegel embodies the best and worst of the American Dream.
A poor boy who dreamed of big things to become a self made billionaire, his company, Westgate Resorts, employs thousands of people. He literally sells pieces of the American Dream to ordinary folk who want to own a little piece of paradise, by way of time shares in his 28 resorts across the USA. He has 8 kids for which he provides more than they’ll ever need. All good stuff. Then there is the other side. The side driven by sheer greed. Where bigger is always better and more should always be chased. No matter the cost. The trophy wife. The private jet. The fleet of cars. The gaudily decorated Floridian mansion. This film proves an old adage true: money can’t buy you taste. Case in point? The room in their under construction house which contains $5m worth of marble!!
It took all I had not to punch the TV when, struggling for cash to save his house, business and all he has worked to build, and having specifically asked her not to spend money they don’t have, Jacqueline goes out and fills 4 big cars with christmas presents for their kids! Including a bike, which, when brought home, is left in a garage FILLED WITH BIKES!!
Interestingly whilst it is David Siegel who I loathed to start with, as he sat in his faux-throne and described with mild glee how he was instrumental in fixing the 2000 US Election for Bush (is there not an investigation that can be started from that admission?!?), I genuinely felt more and more sorry for him as he was humbled to the point of breaking as the film went on.
It was his wife, in contrast, who appeared beyond redemption and unable to grasp the severity of the situation. It was incredible to watch her struggle to cope with flying commercial and getting her head around the fact your Hertz Hire Car doesn’t come with a driver. This woman wasn’t born with a silver spoon up her butt. Not that many years before she was living in a normal income life. Yet she had become so accustomed to excess that anything less felt alien.
If you’ve ever looked at those around you with a little more and thought “maybe if I stretch myself a little further I can have that” then watch this film first. I almost guarantee you’ll be happy with your lot after seeing the real cost of all that junk you’ll never need.
Conclusion: Compelling viewing to watch greedy people humbled and trying to cope with a skewed sense of normality. Makes you grateful for what you’ve got.
Director: Lauren Greenfield – previously did Thin, a documentary looking at 4 girls suffering with anorexia.
Cast: David Siegel, Jacqueline Siegel
No trivia of note