The Queen of Versailles
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Lauren Greenfield is one lucky filmmaker. When she started filming The Queen of Versailles, it was supposed to be a kind of Real Billionaires of Orlando—an up close and personal look at the people who had set out to build the largest home in the country. But, in a twist of fate, the economy took a dive—and what started out as a documentary about the lifestyles of the rich and quirky soon became an eye-opening documentary about a wealthy family struggling to maintain their high standard of living.

Jackie Siegel is the movie’s Queen. Once an engineer for IBM, Jackie was working as a model when she met her husband, David, the owner of Westgate Resorts and self-proclaimed Timeshare King. Seven kids (and one adopted niece) later, the Siegels were living the high life in a 26,000 square-foot home that was “bursting at the seams.” So, inspired by a visit to Paris, they decided to build their very own version of the French palace at Versailles—only theirs would have 10 kitchens, 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley, and a skating rink in a whopping 90,000 square feet. Why build such a massive home? Because they could, of course.

Then came the fall of 2008. And when the economy tanked, so did the Siegels’ vacation timeshare business—right while they were working on a big deal in Las Vegas. Suddenly, Versailles was put on hold as employees were laid off and David struggled to find the money to keep from losing his lavish Las Vegas property.

David himself calls The Queen of Versailles a “riches to rags” kind of story. And that’s really what it is: the story of two people who are used to having everything suddenly trying to live on less. And while David gets surlier and surlier, locking himself in one dark little room in the family’s house as he tries to find more money, Jackie is almost entirely oblivious to their financial difficulties. While she didn’t grow up with money, she’s definitely gotten used to it—so, for Jackie, “cutting back” means buying three carts full of Christmas presents at Walmart instead of going to some expensive store. It means forcing your poor, overworked nanny to host your annual Christmas bash instead of hiring a full staff. It means renting a car from Hertz—and not understanding why the car doesn’t come with a driver.

The Queen of Versailles really is a tragedy. Though it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy who was building a 90,000 square-foot home just because he could, David Siegel’s story is all too familiar. Not that long ago, it was easy to borrow money—so, like so many others, he borrowed more and more and more of it, until he was living well beyond his means. And when the economy came crashing down, he suddenly lost everything. His is a story that we’ve seen before—though it was never this strangely entertaining before.

What makes the movie truly fascinating is its characters. David owns a business that sells the dream of quality time spent with the family—yet he barely even sees his own kids. And Jackie…well, she’s a train wreck—though, deep down, she appears to be a train wreck with a good heart. You’ll be amazed by these people—and the ridiculous things that they do. And while their story is sure to stir up all kinds of conflicting emotions as you watch it, one thing is certain: you’ll be absolutely mesmerized by Lauren Greenfield’s fortuitous film.

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