Title: The Queen of Versailles
Director: Lauren Greenfield (‘Thin,’ ‘Kids + Money’)
Starring: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel
People are often willing to do whatever it takes in order to achieve their goals and dreams, while also becoming financially successful. But it becomes even more difficult for a person to keep the dream after it has already been realized, and everything they’ve worked so hard for has come tumbling down. This devastating drama unfolds in director Lauren Greenfield’s new documentary, ‘The Queen of Versailles,’ showing that the bigger a fortune and dream a person has, the harder it is to adjust once it’s taken away.
‘The Queen of Versailles’ follows the riches-to-rags Floridan billionaire David Siegel, the founder and owner of the largest privately owned timeshare company in the world, Westgate Resorts. David and his third and current wife, Jackie, are living the exorbitant lifestyle that most Americans can only dream about. The two, who both came from modest upbringings, started building the largest one family home in America before the fall of the economy in 2008. However, their sprawling empire begins to collapse after the real estate and vacation markets begin to decline in the midst of the economic crisis.
The Siegel family must put their dream home, which is modeled after the Palace of Versailles in France, on the market as they undergo drastic lifestyle changes. Not only do David and Jackie have to lay off thousands of employees in order to keep their business in operation, they must also find a way to financially support their eight young children.
Greenfield, who won the U.S. Directing Award for Documentary Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for ‘The Queen of Versailles,’ masterfully showcased the sociological issues plaguing American society since the fall of the economy four years ago. After meeting Jackie in 2007 while photographing Donatella Versace for Elle Magazine, the director decided to chronicle the Siegel’s lavish lifestyle. Greenfield perfectly portrayed the Siegel family as personifying the rich lifestyle America has become obsessed with in recent years. Greenfield gracefully indulged the carefree lifestyle that many people yearn for, in which they can spend as much money as they want without any real consequences.
As ‘The Queen of Versailles’ unfolds, at times it’s easy to cast blame for America’s current economic troubles on the extreme rich, like the Siegels, for their excessive spending. Westgate can also be put to blame, as the workers constantly encourage potential clients to buy timeshares essentially outside of their means. But Greenfield effortlessly showed that David and Jackie weren’t trying to harm anyone; they were just ambitious enough to keep building the Westgate empire in order to continuously fund the lifestyle they wanted. As a result, the documentary fearlessly shows that everyone can achieve what they want if they put their mind to it.
But as the timeshare business began stumbling because people couldn’t afford to take such lavish vacations anymore, the Siegels drastically changed under the stress of trying to keep their business and family together. While many Americans have suffered far worse than the Siegels since the 2008 recession, their struggle to cut their budget and change their lifestyles is a theme everyone can relate to. David and Jackie had become so used to being protected by their wealth, which brought them whatever they wanted, that they found it difficult to live within modest means again. While the family believed they were happy while they were able to buy whatever they wanted, they found it difficult to discover what was truly important once the money began to disappear.
While many reality television shows and films focus on people who are famous because they’re rich, and indulge on people’s love of earning money, ‘The Queen of Versailles’ surprisingly shows an emotional look into what happens when a powerful family begins to lose its fortune. While David and Jackie struggle to keep Westgate in business to not only protect their income, but also preserve their dream, the documentary showcases a mortality tale with lessons everyone can learn.
Written by: Karen Benardello