Review: The Queen of Versailles

Queen of Versailles opens today in San Francisco and a handful of other markets.

The Queen of Versailles is essentially a story about having to atone for the sins and hubris of the middle 2000s, when the country and the world was lousy with free credit we thought would never end and spending buttloads of money that wasn’t ours on a parade of silly sh*t that we didn’t need. The tale is exemplified here by David Siegel (left), CEO of Westgate Resorts, the world’s largest time-share company, and his fake beachball-titted former beauty queen of a 30-years-younger trophy wife, Jackie (right). “I… learned to love him,” Jackie tells director Lauren Greenfield.

Director Lauren Greenfield begins following David and Jackie just as they’re becoming local news fluff-piece fodder for building a 90,000 square-foot home in Orlando based on the castle at Versailles (“gaudy” doesn’t even begin to describe it). As they break ground, it turns out that theirs will be the single largest tacky McMansion in all of ‘Murka. Not only do they personify the sub-prime era with their own ridiculous house, the entire house itself was paid for on the back of sub-prime. David’s time-share company that made him his fortune happens to be a business that works by conning working people into believing it’s a better idea to buy a share of a vacation property on credit than spending money they do have on something significantly less opulent. Remember that South Park episode where the family goes on a free vacation to Aspen, but the whole time they can’t escape the guys trying to convince them to by a time share? Westgate are those guys. And not only is David a perfect emblem for Bush-era overextension, it turns out he also helped get the man elected. “I personally got George W. Bush elected,” he boasts at the beginning of the film.

“How do you do that?” asks Greenfield.

“I’d rather not say,” David says, pausing. “It wasn’t necessarily… legal.”

This would seem to make him a rather less-than-sympathetic character, but he quickly adds that if he hadn’t, maybe we wouldn’t have the Iraq War “and some other problems we have today,” suggesting that it was a decision that he regrets. And that’s sort of the crux of Queen of Versailles. A guy who recognizes his past sins and is actually on the hook for them. When the stock market suddenly goes to sh*t (almost immediately after Greenfield started filming), he suddenly realizes that his entire fortune is built on promises people probably can’t keep. Unlike other financial crisis villains who just took their bonuses and paid their fines out of the pockets of shareholders (and eventually taxpayers), David Siegel, unfortunately for him, had a habit of putting all his money back into his business. He even took out a mortgage on the giant, tacky eyesore he’d originally paid for in cash. He was a Ponzi who didn’t even know he was a Ponzi. So as the market goes down, it starts to pull him under with it, and he’s faced with a failing mortgage on a house failing because it was paid for with failing mortgages (“yo dawg, we put a mortgage on your mortgage so you could default while you default!”). How’s that for perfect symbolism? You can see why they named the movie after the house.