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Wed Aug 1, 2012, 08:04 AM

NYT Review: ‘The Queen of Versailles’ by Lauren Greenfield

I read a blurb about this film in the SF Weekly and have been meaning to check out reviews for it. Looks gruesomely fascinating.


A gaudy guilty pleasure that is also a piece of trenchant social criticism, the movie starts out in the mode of reality television, resembling the pilot for a new “Real Housewives” franchise or a reboot of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Before long, though, it takes on the coloration of a Theodore Dreiser novel — not quite an American tragedy but a sprawling, richly detailed study of ambition, desire and the wild swings of fortune that are included in the price of the capitalist ticket.

When they first sit for Ms. Greenfield’s cameras, in 2007, David and Jackie Siegel are living an outsized, unlimited version of the American dream. His time-share business, Westgate Resorts, is booming. Families seduced by easy credit, aggressive sales tactics and the chance for a taste of luxury are eager to sign on the dotted line, and a sleek new Westgate dream palace has just gone up in Las Vegas.

Mr. Siegel is happy to talk about his modest beginnings in Indiana, his hard work and his devotion to causes including the Miss America organization and the Republican Party. His wife, a former model and beauty contestant, is outgoing and unpretentious, so tickled by her extravagant life that it is hard not to share her enthusiasm.

Feeling a bit squeezed in their 26,000-square-foot mansion in Orlando, Fla., the Siegels are building a palatial home more than three times as big. Envisioned as the largest residence in America, the house is modeled, with little irony and less restraint, on the French chateau referred to in the film’s title.

The review is only valuable as overview of the film, the comments are priceless and more on point:

Not a mirror - a lense into delusion

I do not agree with Mr. Scott that the Siegels hold a mirror up to the rest of us; their story is an extreme example of the mania, hubris, self-delusion and overall insanity that fueled the house-of-cards real-estate boom and bust. They both appear to be self-aggrandizing narcissists - why would they let themselves and their family be filmed in the first place if they weren't - and while Mr. Siegel appears to be playing out a Shakespearean quest to make up for his own father's gambling addition and financial failures and be everyone's hero/sugar daddy, his wife is clearly a mentally ill hoarder/acquirer/plastic surgery junkie who is unable to curb her extravagant habits even when it's clear their ship is going down. The real villains are the bankers who fueled this insanity and then punished the monsters they created; the saddest part of the story is Ms. Siegel's childhood friend whose house is foreclosed on for a mere $1,700 back payment even after she gets the money to save it; and the Filipino housekeepers who have given up their lives to run the Siegal's household and raise their children while sending most of their money back home to support their own families. It is a fascinating allegorical tale, well told. But a mirror? Well, maybe if Donald Trump or a Kardashien is on the other side.

– larochelle2, New York, NY

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