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In 2008, the Siegel family was top of the heap with the wealthy and politically influential David Siegel running the successful Westgate Resorts time-share business. To enjoy their good life, he and his engineer turned beauty queen trophy wife, Jackie, were building the largest single family private home in America. Suddenly, both the US economy and Westgate were rocked by the devastating sub-prime mortgage collapse. In the new economic reality with the business teetering on ruin, we follow the Siegels as they struggle to scale down their grotesquely ostentatious lifestyle. For this overprivileged family, accepting that situation proved a dispiriting struggle even as their unfinished dream home became a monument of their superficial values. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I've been up and down my entire life. I mean, I've been married before and I didn't have to worry about anything. I was making tons of money modeling; and then I was poor again. I've been a cocktail waitress. I mean, I even... in the nursing home I used to clean dead people and prepare them for the morgue.
For $3.35 an hour.
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This movie was planned to be a documentary about the biggest house in America, but after the crash of 2008 occurred shortly after filming began, the director turned it into a story of the economic collapse. We're familiar with the stories of the many ordinary people who lost their jobs in 2008-09; this film is a story of people who despite being very rich--at least on paper--were also victims although perhaps mostly of their own bad judgment. I expected to hate the Siegels, but I did not. Although they're not people with whom I would want to spend personal time, they come across as merely shallow, immature and maybe even naive people who became addicted to money and spending and suffered the consequences.
The film shows laughable yet slightly shocking scenes of people who equate stuff with happiness and excess with success. "Versailles" is never finished (the house plays a bit part in the movie) but the home they live in is ridiculous in its own way: It's luxurious, but also filthy. Unhousebroken dogs poop all over the place, every room is cluttered, stuff spills out of closets, one daughter is obese and it's obvious the hired help can't keep up.
The movie takes time to give personal histories of both Mr. and Mrs. Siegel and it's easy to see how they turned out the way they did: Mr. Siegel's parents were gamblers, and although they lost their money in Las Vegas and their son became rich, the movie shows how really he is a gambler and big spender as well. Mrs. Siegel is not merely a "trophy wife" although her sexist husband sees her that way; she has an engineering degree and made money as a model before her marriage. Despite her shopping addiction, disorganization and extremely poor housekeeping skills, it's clear she's a savvy survivor who has a tendency to get what she wants. The movie also features some interviews with other family members including two teenage daughters. Their comments are extremely honest, both about their parents and about wealth. The heartbreaking interview, however, is with the Filipina nanny. In her brief tale, she gives a glimpse into Third World poverty that shows how lucky the Siegels really are.
From what I've read the Siegels are back on their feet; like most rich people, they did not suffer in the way that most of us have suffered. Yet it is clear that they did suffer. The film is not judgmental and I have to give the Siegels credit for allowing the filmmaker to film intimate details of their life, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people who are addicted to money and spending. In the end you'll have to judge for yourself if you envy or pity the Siegels. My own take was that their view of life is so foreign to mine that what they would call happiness I would only call boredom.
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