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The Queen of Versailles - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Queen of Versailles
Directing: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

The first thing you notice about Jackie Siegel is her breasts. I'm a gay man and it's the first thing I noticed, so that really tells you something. This movie could have been called The Queen of Versailles, and Her Breasts. Or maybe just The Breasts of Versailles. This woman is 46 years old and a walking advertisement for the dangers of aging with implants.

Director Lauren Greenfield never directly addresses Jackie's breasts; she lets them speak for themselves, as she does nearly everything on camera. There is brief footage, however, of Jackie winning Miss Florida in 1993, and her breasts don't look so large in that footage. And Greenfield is much more concerned with the present, which offers pretty much all the insight we need -- including a visit to a spa, in which Jackie gets extensive skin treatments which include facial botox injections.

Jackie is married to a man 31 years older than her. He's David Siegel, CEO of Westfield Resorts, the largest privately owned timeshare company in the world. This makes them both insanely wealthy -- and that's not hyperbole. The Versailles of the title is the nickname for the house the Siegels are building in Florida, modeled after the actual Palace of Versailles in France. This is to be the largest privately owned home in the country.

As one might expect, the Siegels are a little out of touch. The Queen of Versailles was just supposed to be a portrait of this obscenely rich family, which would have been interesting enough on its own. Jackie has eight kids (seven she birthed on her own), and she openly discusses how she never would have considered having so many if not for being able to hire nannies. And yet she actually comes across, surprisingly, as a relatively loving and attentive mother. She seems to enjoy the role: "They're just little bundles of joy," she says.

This film has generated a fair amount of press, due to David suing the filmmakers for defamation of character. His primary concern is how it depicts the livelihood of his business -- which, in the film, is grim indeed: the real estate market went belly up in the middle of filming. From a filmmaking point of view, one can't blame Greenfield for jumping on that -- suddenly the story got much, much more interesting. The Siegels never quite start living like poor people, but they lose a hell of a lot. David has to lay off thousands of people and stop selling properties in his flagship skyscraper on the Las Vegas Strip. And it says a lot about David that his beef with the filmmakers is how they depict his business and not how they depict him -- because frankly, he comes across as an asshole. And not just in a "creative editing" way, either. He gets so stressed by finances that at one point he irrationally lashes out at family members for leaving lights on in their ridiculously huge house (which is not "Versailles" -- that's only ever under construction).

David Siegel is 31 years older than Jackie. This puts him in his seventies. Amazingly, Jackie loves him unconditionally. David is asked directly, in one of the few moments of the film where the person behind the camera is heard speaking, if he gets strength from his marriage -- and he says no. He's not always the nicest guy. Jackie mentions how he once said David would trade her in for two 20-year-olds when she turned 40. "I'm waiting for you to turn 60 so I can get three 20-year-olds," he says. It comes across as an empty threat, maybe even ribbing, and yet there is a sense that perhaps he really wishes he could do that. It's a little hard not to see this guy as a douchebag, especially when he insists he's personally responsible for getting George W. Bush elected in 2000 (he lives in Florida, remember), but then says he can't say how he did it because it may not quite have been legal.

Promotional materials have called this a "rags to riches to rags" story -- which is slightly misleading (and one of David's legal complaints). The Siegels themselves never go down to rags. They just push the majority of their employees in that direction when money starts to run dry. Construction is halted on Versailles -- a house so huge that Jackie's closet is first mistaken for her bedroom -- and they lay off even the majority of their household staff. The few nannies they have left are massively overworked. They have too many dogs and not enough people to clean up their shit. There are poignant interviews with domestic workers who send money back home to grown children they haven't seen since they were seven.

It's kind of impossible to feel sorry for the Siegels, all of whom are totally blind to how the very industry they are in -- and the choices they themselves made -- contributed to the economic situation. And yet, against all reason, Jackie is curiously likable. She is the sensible choice as the focal point of the film. This is a woman who got a job at IBM forever ago, saw her only choices as either being an engineer or an engineer's secretary, and chose the former. She's very blonde but she's not dumb. But when a coworker illustrated how deadening the job was to him, she quit and followed her dreams -- which apparently included competing in beauty pageants. She got as far as Miss Florida.

But Jackie has an endearing tenacity of attitude, always staying positive even when David is a dick. And when she talks about how she remembers growing up of modest means and how she hasn't forgotten it, you feel like she means it. She seems both grateful for what she has and able to adapt when things fall apart. Sure, she has to get clued into reality at times: When she is reduced to renting a car on her own, she asks what the name of her driver is. This makes her look a little stupid but you can tell that she isn't.

She's just naïve. Maybe even sweetly naïve. That's not exactly an excuse for ignorance, which she also seems to have a fair amount of. But in the package that is Jackie Siegel, it sure makes for a compelling and thought provoking movie.

No one ever says anything about Jackie Siegel gigantic breasts in THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES.

Overall: B+
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