Title: The Queen of Versailles
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Taking a look at the wealthy could be an easy mark for comedy. Considering a majority of the US is not wealthy, seeing how this social class lives their daily lives can be very different from the rest of us. But surprisingly, the film “The Queen of Versailles” takes a more mannered approach and develops into an examination of American values as a whole. And like most good narratives developing into something different from where you started is a recipe for world-class documentary filmmaking. Director Lauren Greenfield presents the downfall of not just one of the richest families in the US but the downfall of American ideals and overall the perception of the American dream.
“The Queen of Versailles” follows the exploits of the Siegel family. David Siegel is a billionaire real estate mogul from Florida and owner of one of the largest time-share businesses in the world. His wife Jackie is an ex-beauty queen/engineer who runs their family unit. Together they have one simple plan, to build the largest house in the US, not because they need the space, just because they could. But when the housing bubble burst and banks started to fail, the Siegel’s are faced with the reality of the majority of Americans, they have to start living within their means.
Both David and Jackie come from modest backgrounds and both worked hard to get where they are in life. David is from the Midwest and Jackie is from upstate New York. The idea of the American dream of hard work will always pay off is extremely relatable. They weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths, which is again very relatable.
What could be taken as comical, director Laura Greenfield takes a more sympathetic and even approach to the subject matter. She puts it under the lens of examining American values, although a majority of the US will never have this sort of wealth, we can all relate to the idea of not having enough to pay our bills. The more you are worth; the more you have to pay. This idea is taken to the conclusion of comparing the Siegel family problems with one of Jackie’s childhood friend’s financial problems. Although her friend is working class, she still struggles with making ends meet at the end of the month. With the Siegel’s it just on a larger scale.
Taking a look at David’s business is the apex of the American dream. David sells time-shares. He sells luxury hotel rooms to tourist who can only spend, at the most, a few weeks in their “property.” We all want to be rich but if we can’t be rich, the next best thing is living like we’re rich for only a short time. He is, literally, selling a dream.
“The Queen of Versailles” is a fantastic film because it doesn’t judge its subjects. It doesn’t place the blame at any one problem. It takes an interesting look, that is all. It takes these big ideas about the American dream and examines why we all think this way and why we believe it as true. Not only with the working class, or the 1% but why people all over the world want to come to the US. An interesting shift is when Greenfield takes a look at the Siegel family nannies and maids. It’s no coincidence that they are all Filipinos. They want to get a piece of the American dream too. Even if it means never seeing their families again, it’s worth it to pay their family’s way and build something solid in America. “The Queen of Versailles” reveals that solid ground is more like quicksand, the more you struggle means the more you can get stuck.