Last week, Madelene and I headed down to Cinema Salem to check out a new documentary, “The Queen of Versailles.” In the car, we tried to recall the last films we had seen in the theater, a rarity since becoming moms. Mine was “Avatar.” I kid you not. (Cinema Salem does offer Baby and Me shows every Monday, as Beth discovered, which I think is brilliant, but unfortunately, that doesn’t fit in with my schedule.)
Navigating the childcare logistics was worth it. “The Queen of Versailles” did not disappoint. It is the story of David and Jackie Siegel and their eight children, nineteen household staff members, countless dogs, and dead lizard. Indirectly, it is also the story of thousands of employees at Westgate – the largest, privately owned timeshare company in the world.
At the beginning of the documentary, life is good. The Siegels fly a private jet, hobnob with celebrities and politicians, own $17,000 pairs of boots, and take their limo to McDonald’s for lunch. Westgate has just opened a premium resort on the Las Vegas strip and the Siegels are constructing the largest home in America — a 90,000 square feet mega mansion patterned after Versailles in France, complete with a spa, ice skating rink, and bowling alley.
The excess is staggering. And a little, well, gross.
Then, the fall of 2008 hits, the real estate and stock market take a plunge, and lines of credit are frozen. Westgate finds itself in serious financial difficulty, and the film takes a very interesting turn. It develops into a “riches to rags” story, as David Siegel so aptly states. Jackie puts on a brave face, along with a few choice outfits, and tries her best to make do. Think surgically enhanced Scarlet O’Hara in low cut leopard print. A lesser director might have turned Jackie into a mere caricature, but Lauren Greenfield shows us Jackie’s warm, caring, and loyal spirit.
I won’t give away all the gory details; you have to see it for yourself. The film is a well-directed, incredibly candid look at the culture of easy money, extravagance, and ultimately, debt with a capital “D.”