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Friday, August 10, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.
'The Queen of Versailles' is a gossipy peek at the American dream
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Both a gossipy peek at lives-of-the-rich-and-famous and a trenchant examination of the American dream, Lauren Greenfield's "The Queen of Versailles" is about one family and two houses. The family is the Siegels, of Florida: David, a billionaire time-share magnate; Jackie, his decades-younger and multi-plastic-surgeried wife; their eight children; and their various maids, nannies and drivers.
The houses are the one that they have — a 26,000-square-foot "starter mansion" crammed with furniture, toys and pets — and the one that they want: an unfinished 90,000-square-foot palace nicknamed Versailles, complete with 10 kitchens, a roller rink and a deck for viewing the nightly fireworks at Disney World.
Living in such a house would be, Jackie says, "a lifetime achievement."
But Greenfield's documentary is uncannily timed to capture the couple's rise and fall: All moves along swimmingly with plans for Versailles, until the 2008 recession takes a sudden toll on David's fortunes.
Construction stops on the house; the Siegels dismiss much of their staff; private jets become a thing of the past; and Jackie starts shopping (voraciously) at Walmart.
It's fascinating to observe how David's time-share business was a mirror of the subprime-mortgage crisis; how his salespeople skillfully roped in customers who clearly couldn't afford what they were buying; and how the rich are indeed different from you and me. (Just one example: They have their dead pets stuffed, and reclining on the piano.)
But "Queen of Versailles" is most intriguing as a portrait of Jackie — a woman easy to caricature (in one party scene, she peers down into her low-cut dress and seems briefly mesmerized, adjusting a breast as if it were an errant hors d'oeuvre on a tray) but impossible to dislike. In her short shorts and platform heels, she clomps through the movie with a trail of children and merchandise in her wake, gazing out in a way that's both regal and vacant. This rags-to-riches-to-almost-rags-again queen has an endearing knack for looking on the bright side. You find yourself, by the end, wishing her well.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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