If there's a queasy, outrageous caricature to be had of America's pampered and greedy one percenters, it's surely in the breathtaking portrait painted of the Siegels — 73-year-old time-share billionaire David and his balloon-chested, 43-year-old trophy wife Jackie — in “The Queen of Versailles,” director Lauren Greenfield's lurid, funny yet oddly poignant contemplation on corrosive wealth.
At first blush, it appears, here's a chance for us 99-percenters to gawk and snicker and assume the moral high ground over those who would grab more than their fair share, violate all bounds of good taste and dismiss the masses with “let them eat cake” callousness.
But Greenfield appears to be after something more subtle and complex than glib schadenfreude or merely holding up the Siegels for ridicule.
Sure, David Siegel is a detestable old skinflint — the miserly embodiment of folks that George W. Bush blithely described as “the haves — and the have mores.” In fact, in one telling scene David boasts of pulling strings in the 2000 presidential election to get W. into the White House.
It's scant justice then that Siegel, who made his billions selling subprime mortgages to people who couldn't afford them, is laid low by the 2008 crash and very financial skulduggery that he supposedly helped put in place.
But before hard times descended on David and Jackie, they had their own dream of a pleasure dome that would rival anything Kublai Khan could conjure. That would be their very own Versailles, a 90,000-square-foot Orlando mansion boasting 10 kitchens, a skating rink, wall-to-wall antiques and opulent architecture inspired more by Las Vegas theme-park glitz than French stateliness.
Reigning with giggly delight over this gaudy consumer spectacle is its de facto “queen,” the aging model/beauty contestant (and former IBM engineer) Jackie, who marvels at her good fortune in having married a man of unlimited means. She shops as reflexively as she breathes and also seems to have lost her moorings in reality.
When hard times come and construction on Versailles grinds to a halt, Jackie bemoans the fact that her kids (she has seven) might now “actually have to go to college.” When she's forced to rent a car from Hertz, she asks what will be the name of her driver. When she has to lay off most of her servants, she seems utterly unable to corral her gaggle of fluffy dogs and clean up after them.
It seems she's been rendered a helpless invalid of wealth. Such an outlandish character in a work of fiction would seem beyond the pale. But as unflattering as this portrait often is (David Siegel, in fact, is suing Greenfield and the film's distributors for defamation), Jackie, at least, comes across as a deeply flawed but winsomely vulnerable figure of Shakespearean proportions.
She's a queen who reigned over a hollow empire, who lost her essence to gimcracks and gewgaws, who pursued that universal dream of riches down a rabbit hole. Jackie Siegel may have lost most of her husband's fabulous wealth, but with “The Queen of Versailles” she's gained another, perhaps more valuable commodity in our age of reality TV — instant celebrity.
— Dennis King
‘The Queen of Versailles'
Starring: Jackie and David Siegel.
(Thematic elements and language)