The Queen of Versailles tells the story of David Siegel and his wife Jacqueline who are wealthy beyond belief and are building what is supposed to be the biggest home in America (they already have one almost as big), but then the economic recession hits and everything goes awry. David’s company, one of the largest timeshare companies in America, goes to the brink of bankruptcy, threatening the lifestyle the husband and wife, along with their eight kids and all the maids and nannies and staff, have gotten used to. It’s a portrayal of how easily the American dream can turn into a nightmare.

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It seems like director Lauren Greenfield was originally just trying to do a portrayal of capitalistic excess with this movie, the story of supremely rich people who want to live like the royalty they appear to think they are. But then the recession hit and an already fascinating story had several layers added to it.

The Queen of Versailles has some real drama in it, and protagonists whom you both sympathize with but also laugh at, so it’s not just another talking heads doc. To begin with you find yourself mostly laughing (or gasping) at how ridiculously excessive and out-of-touch some people can be and how truly surreal the American dream can get. But the film gradually reveals those people to be real human beings behind all the excess. These are not idiots, they’re just people who won’t accept being just like everybody else and will stop at nothing to be rich and successful, but just got a little carried away.

But then the economic recession hit and gave them a rude awakening. Or did it?

While David and Jacqueline clearly seem to be aware of how bad things have turned, they send their kids to public schools rather than private ones and start flying commercial airlines, they still can’t stop behaving irrationally. David refuses to sell a part of his company even though it’s obviously the only rational thing to do while Jackie can’t stop going on shopping sprees. What’s probably most symbolic of their lifestyle is the fate of a pet lizard their kids own. The lizard is found dead and one of the kids replies by saying he didn’t even know they had a lizard!

David and Jackie Siegel in The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles tells a fascinating tale and gives great insight into how the economic recession happened without being too obvious about it. It’s also a portrayal of a family and they are shown both as recognizably human as well as slightly insane and out of touch. But the film still evades greatness, partly because the film-making is merely solid rather than exceptional. The editing and flow of the movie is largely pretty conventional and feels like this tale could have been told with a tad more style. Even at only 90 minutes the movie also feels a little overlong, it holds you for the first hour or so but eventually starts to drag a little. It easily could have been 10-15 minutes shorter.

Final verdict: A truly fascinating story that shows how excessive capitalism can get and gives you a little insight for one of the many reasons for the economic recession. But the film-making is rather conventional and the movie feels overlong even at only 90 minutes.

Keep up with our RIFF coverage here.

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