The documentary The Queen of Versailles (2012) is the kind of film that you start watching assuming it is just going to make you mad as hell. Tis after all a film about a family who are attempting to build the largest house in the USA, not a bunch of people many (or at least me) are likely to warm too or feel too much sympathy for when their dreams go awry. What is delivered however is a little more complex.
Don’t worry, you will feel angry, but you will also feel a bunch of other things as well. The film starts out by recounting the fairytale romance of Jackie and David Siegel. You know that age-old fairytale, the one where the woman is not particularly taken with the man, but eventually falls in love with him simply because he is so infatuated with her. The one where our dashing prince complains that “what she lacks in housekeeping skills, she makes up for in other ways.” I’ll give away how you end up feeling about the characters. He is an absolute, irredeemable jackass. Whilst Jackie is an altogether more sympathetic, complex and ‘real’ person.
The film chronicles their attempts to build their dream home, one that is 90,000 square feet and features amongst other things, a full sized baseball field. In case you had missed it, these are people with a total disconnect from reality. This is a world of inexplicable greed that sheds a light on the so called American Dream. It interrogates the fact that the American Dream is to rise above your ‘status’ and what that means in practice. Although somewhat strangely, or perhaps logically, the kids seem far more normal and world aware than the adults. One particularly insightful teen especially is able to cut through all the bullshit that clouds the world around her. Director Lauren Greenfield does some very clever things elsewhere in the film, showing the death of a pet lizard because no one could be fucked feeding it. This exemplifies the sheer neglect and superficiality that the family has come to impose on its life. As the financial crisis hits the Siegel’s business dealings, David’s true nature comes out, with his bitter tirades become more and more frequent. Jackie though, is able to see behind the surface level of their troubles, recognising the suffering that the situation must be causing others. Furthermore, she is happy that David has been humbled in this way, perhaps hoping that he can learn from it (doubtful). For all the exceedingly interesting subject matter though, The Queen of Versailles is nothing special in its presentation though which perhaps lessens the impact of the overall film.
The sleazebag David is a strange dude, with all the ego you would expect from a man of his wealth (a wealth unsurprisingly built on a foundation of totally unethical business practices). He enjoys gloating about how he personally got George W. Bush elected, whilst simultaneously expressing some remorse that he did so because of America’s involvement in Iraq. The film shows that David Siegel is not just an exceptionally greedy, sexist and smarmy man; he is in fact a sociopathic and abusive one. The power dynamic that he imposes on his wife is no different to that in other abusive relationships. Whilst all David cares about is money, all that Jackie truly cares about is being loved. She is an extremely astute person but the way she has been treated throughout her life has left her a person who is left struggling to interact with the world around her, try as she might.
The Queen of Versailles is exceptionally good at articulating the patriarchal bullshit and hyper-capitalism that plagues much of the world around us. The Siegels are perhaps an extreme example of this, but unfortunately are probably more representative of the world at large than we would like to admit.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
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It’s this conception of America that makes my stomach ache. I assure you, most all Americans do not live like this or harbor desires to live like this. We are average Joe’s, most of us poor, working 2 jobs to make ends meet, living with roommates because a single paycheck won’t cut it. If this is a slam against the 1%, then fine. But the backslide of this is others around the world think this is how it is in America.
Thanks for commenting, always great to hear your thoughts.
I definitely don’t think that all Americans are like those in the film. In fact, our media is really good at often showing the real struggle of many Americans. Both in light of the GFC which affected you far more than us and the healthcare situation which is incomprehensible to us in Australia as it probably is to people in a number of countries.
The film is in some ways distinctly American. But there is no doubt that there are people like these in all societies, including here in Australia. Greed is unfortunately a relatively universal value.
Excellent review! I loved it to bits. Made me burst in laughter but also made me feel guilty about doing so. Brill!
Cheers sir, really glad you enjoyed it. Lovely to receive such nice feedback.
I’ve looked at the poster/cover of this thing on Netflix for a while now, and every time, I go “ugh” and keep looking. You make it sound more appealing, but god damn, that trailer already made me mad. She’s standing there in a fucking fur coat, complaining that she can’t afford a watch? Wtf? I’ll give it a shot, though.
Give it a shot. You will probably still get really angry at points, but especially the main woman is a bit more complex and interesting than a surface glance would suggest.
I remember hearing about t his but had no idea who these people were or why I should care about them. I’m torn after reading your review. People like the dude here really piss me off but I’m intrigued that the woman may not be as bitchy as she seemed in the trailer…
The dude is an utter jerk and he will make you exceedingly angry. But the film is pretty interesting I have to say. You won’t care particularly about the people in it, but it is thought provoking at times.