Posted by Alia Haddad on August 20, 2012 at 10:20 am
Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles was featured at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival to wide acclaim. It was no surprise, being one of the most lauded movies (not to mention documentaries) at one of the most covetous film festivals, that I had my eye on it. And so, when I found The Queen of Versailles released at independent film houses country-wide, I jumped at the chance to see it.
The Queen of Versailles, following the Floridian Siegel family, focuses mainly on the patriarch and matriarch of said family–David and Jaqueline, respectively–as they embark on a quest to build (and subsequently to inhabit) the largest house in America, clocking in at over 90,000 square feet. The documentary follows the Siegel’s for two years as they are both in the process of constructing the famed house and then, after losing their fortune during the market collapse, as they are in the process of foreclosing on it.The subject itself is intriguing, which is doubled when taking the two main characters (yes, they seem more like characters than real people) into account. David made his money as the once-largest time-share hotel owner in America, and Jaqueline is a former Miss Florida winner. With 8 children between them and over a 20 year age gap, the couple embodies every stereotype you think of when you imagine an older rich man with a younger, good looking blonde woman living in Florida.
With a subject like that, it would be hard for The Queen of Versailles to not be entertaining. And, oh boy, it certainly was. Self-portraits as greek gods on horses, taxidermied household pets, and Victorian furniture pour throughout the film, as David and Jaqueline describe their inspiration for their upcoming house–a mix between the Palace of Versailles and Las Vegas couture, naturally. The two characters are so over-the-top that it never becomes tiring watching them. With that caveat I repeat that it wasn’t hard for The Queen of Versailles to hold the viewer’s interest for the 100 minute run-time.
Where The Queen of Versailles truly excelled, however, was in its complex portrayal of the family. Despite embodying what many people find wrong with America–for example, David credits himself personally for the re-election of George W. Bush–they are never quite without the viewer’s sympathy as they are forced to sell true incomplete mansion.
Watching The Queen of Versailles is a little like watching a train wreck, but Greenfield managed to give this train wreck a level of depth not normally seen in such spectacles. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took home the Best Documentary category at next year’s Oscars, that is, if the Academy isn’t still wooed by the emotional plea of The Bully Project.
- 09/26/2012: Elizabeth The Blogger