For a documentary about a trophy wife whose dream of building the biggest mansion in the United States is derailed by the 2008 financial collapse, The Queen of Versailles is awfully empathetic. Perhaps that’s because the tragic flaw revealed in Jackie Siegel – the desire to obtain more than you can afford – is shared by so many of us living in overextended America.
A third wife and mother of eight children, the 43-year-old Jackie has her sights set on Orlando home of outrageously tacky proportions. (It’s not modeled after a French palace, it’s modeled after a Las Vegas hotel that’s modeled after a French palace.) Her husband David’s fortune, however, is built upon the timeshare business, and so when the economy bottoms out – when his customers can no longer sign up for vacations they can’t really afford – the Siegels also have to adjust.
And so their plight plays like the financial crisis in miniature. Or perhaps it’s in macro. Jackie fires most of the housekeeping staff in an effort to cut costs, but still comes back from Wal-Mart with carts of toys and gadgets that duplicate things she already has. David isolates himself in a dark home office, where he’s threatened with burial by towering paperwork. Director Lauren Greenfield’s access is amazing – Jackie seems to have an equally self-destructive streak of vanity – yet she never exploits it to mock or judge her subjects. In the end, these are just two more desperate Americans kept awake at night by the past-due notices on their credit-card bills.