The Queen of Versailles

It seems strange to fondly reminiscence about Lauren Greenfield’s fascinating documentary The Queen of Versailles on the verge of another potential American economic collapse, but the filmmaker’s weirdly funny and strangely endearing look at the uber-rich Jackie and David Siegel remains a steadfastly engaging documentary. Oh, and now it’s one with a bit of an update.

If you’re in need of a catch up on the film, hop on over to my review of the film from Sundance 2012, or just sit tight for a compact version right here. Greenfield’s doc focuses on the Siegels, incredibly wealthy Floridians who were, at the time Greenfield started filming, best known for their attempt to build the United States’ largest single family residence, one they modeled after equal parts the Palace of Versailles and the top three floors of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. They sound so fun, right? As the filming process wound on, however, the Siegels (David is founder, owner, president, and chief executive officer of Westgate Resorts, one of the world’s largest real estate and timeshare companies, Jackie is a homemaker) were unexpectedly plunged into dire financial straits (dire, of course, by their measure). While The Queen of Versailles was originally meant to chronicle eye-popping excess wealth in America, it ended up capturing the flipside to economic fat-cat-ness, and it did it with finesse and humor.

The film was a hit at Sundance – and the Siegels’ pre-festival campaign and lawsuit against both the festival and Greenberg certainly built buzz – but the last act of the film felt too open-ended, with the Siegels just starting to pick up the pieces as Greenberg tried to wrap things up. It felt like a film without a third act. Now, however, that’s changed, even if Greenberg hasn’t been filming it.

Gawker reported a very nice wrap-up on the Siegels’ current situation back in April, when Jackie took to Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live after the channel premiered the film and mouthed off about a whole mess of stuff, including updates on the status of Westgate (financially sound!), their massive house (soon to be completed!), the irresponsible editing of the film (well, irresponsible and incorrect in their minds), and the current state of their suit against Greenfield (a federal judge ruled in the director’s favor). The outlet’s Rich Juzwiak sagely pointed out the irony of Siegel’s appearance, noting that “despite all this litigation, there was Jackie was last night, on TV promoting this thing that she claims is inaccurate and yet is the cause of her pop cultural relevance. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that makes sense in the world of reality TV, which would be the next logical step for the Siegels.”

While the Siegels haven’t taken to small screen domination (yet), Jackie did appear on CNBC’s Secret Lives of the Super Rich recently to show off the status of Versailles. Juzwiak again hit the Siegel beat (brave man) to share how the appearance went – which was basically totally bizarre. As Juzwiak notes, it doesn’t look like much has changed since Greenberg’s film was lensed back in 2010, no matter how pumped Siegel seems. Hey, fake Versailles wasn’t built in a day.

The segment leads off with Jackie trotting the show’s host through the house’s massive ballroom – “this is what I call my ballroom” – as he amusingly (and perhaps accidentally so) asks her how many people can “comfortably” party down in the gigantic unfinished room (Jackie may say as many as a thousand, but the real answer is zero, because this is still an unfinished room). Jackie then attempts to lead the host and cameras around, though she frequently forgets where she’s going and what each room is for. It’s that sort of wacky lack of self-awareness that made Queen of Versailles so incredibly amusing and astounding, and it’s somewhat comforting that Siegel hasn’t lost that. In fact, it also helps prove just how right on the money Greenfield’s doc actually was, at least as it applies to Jackie and her unique style.

The rest of the CNBC piece includes lots of flashy graphics and facts to illuminate just how goddamn massive this fake Versailles (Faux-sailles?) will be, along with Jackie routinely walking through areas bigger than the average American house that she blithely identifies as her “portion” of the Siegels’ closet. At one point, the host attempts to run the length of the first floor. It’s absolutely bonkers, but it’s The Queen of Versailles through and through. Try not to throw your computer out a window.

For your essential Siegel-viewing pleasure, head on over to Gawker to watch the clip from Secret Lives of the Super Rich.


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