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THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (USA/Light House/104mins)
Directed by Lauren Greenfield. Starring David Siegel, Jaqueline Segal, Virginia Nebab, a bunch of kids, some beleaguered Filipino nannies, and a bunch of small, constantly shitting dogs.
THE PLOT: When filmmaker Lauren Greenfield first meets 74-year-old time-share billionaire David Segal and his third wife, 43-year-old Jackie (a former Miss Florida, and, according to her adult stepson, “the hostess with the mostests”, thanks to her permanently and prominently displayed cleavage), they very much represent America’s grossly wealthy 1%. Four years later, and in the aftermath of the Wall Street crash of 2008, they’re struggling to keep their home, their family (there’s eight kids, including one rescued 16-year old niece) and Siegel’s crumbling business, Westgate Resorts, together.
Over that time, we get to witness the seismic shift in this large family’s daily life, Siegel going from much grandiose huffing and puffing (responsible, he assures us, for Bush’s second term as president; he just can’t tell us why, for legal reasons) to a man sitting very much alone, eating alone, in a permanent huff – both with the banks who threw all that “cheap money” at him before suddenly taking it all away, and with his kids for leaving all the lights on. Bubbly blonde Virginia, for her part, never allows reality to get in the way of a good fantasy life, clinging on to the hope that they’ll one day finish their dream home (the 90,000 square-feet Versailles, the largest home in America), despite the fact that the banks are circling. You get the impression too that Jackie realises that although she has a better chance of holding on to a humbled husband, she’s the man’s third trophy wife - and she’s beginning to show signs of rust. Or maybe it’s just the fake tan crusting.
THE VERDICT: Doing the 1%’s public image some serious damage, even if Greenfield does ultimately offer up a sympathetic portrait of its subjects, Lauren Greenfield’s timely documentary plays like Dallas: Unplugged. Or Money Boo Boo. The Siegels are the Ewings crossed with the Osbournes, slowly realising that they are now having to face life as the Clampetts in reverse. It’s a riches to rags story, as Siegel himself quips, and one that, despite the grotesque wealth on display (Elvis might as well be their decorator), paints a very familiar and timely picture of a family buckling with the new reality (the kids flying commercial for the first time; Jackie asking the Hertz assistant if her car comes with a driver) that arrives after the goldrush. Indeed, this is a film as much about the recession as it is about greed.
In January, Siegel filed a lawsuit against the film’s producer, adding distributor Magnolia and TV rights holder Bravo to his action in June. Plainly, Greenfield hit a nerve. Or two. RATING: 4/5
Review by P Byrne