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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 (email@example.com)
The filmmaker did not aim to exploit these classless, tasteless billionaires; they took care of that themselves
Schadenfreude - pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The entire audience at the screening of The Queen of Versailles experienced this feeling about the Siegel family; they are truly atrocious people. Two years ago, David and Jackie Siegel were billionaires. They had planes, Rolls Royces, multiple nannies for their seven kids, hosted parties for the Miss America pageant while David flirted with the contestants, and sat on a golden throne in their Orlando house during interviews for this documentary. They also began construction on a mansion called Versailles, a project which would become the largest house in the entire United States.
It appears the filmmakers wanted to document the rise of this monstrosity of a house and display the lifestyle of the obscenely rich. Even better, these rich people liked to flaunt in front of the camera, not enjoy their splendor in private ala Bill Gates. David Siegel proudly claims he is individually responsible for George W. Bush winning the state of Florida and therefore the presidency; however, he chuckles that what he did was not exactly legal. Oh yes, schadenfreude. David called himself the 'King of Time Shares'. He built 28 resorts and an enormous building on the Vegas strip, parceled them up, and sold them 52 different times to vacationers. Then, in what must have exceeded all of the filmmakers' expectations, the recession hit and everybody in the country stopped buying time shares.
The Siegels were billionaires and yet, they had no savings. They paid cash for the Versailles house and only later put a mortgage on it because that meant millions more in ready, liquid money. They put nothing away for college funds for their kids. In fact, Jackie stares at the camera exclaiming her children might actually have to go to college now. The Siegels can no longer keep up with the Versailles mortgage payments and put it up for sale unfinished for $75 million. The housing market just crashed, tens of thousands of families are entering foreclosure, including Jackie's best friend, and the Siegels are trying to move a $75 million dollar mistake. The realtors may not be quite up to the task of marketing the house since one of the agents exclaims how unique Versailles (pronouncing it Versize) is.
Nobody is buying time shares, therefore, there is no money coming in to the company, and David lays off 7,000 employees. He also fires 19 household servants. Dogs run around crapping all over the house and nobody picks it up. A lizard dies of lack of food and water, a fish floats at the top of its filthy tank, and one of the kids exclaims, "I didn't know we even had a lizard." Don't worry, Jackie still compulsively shops to add to the ridiculous piles of 'stuff' that the kids do not even know they have. She also maintains her plastic surgery regimen. Jackie's chest has enjoyed being a a third character in this whole mess.
Other than the Michael Moore type of documentaries which have a stated agenda, filmmakers are thought to be neutral arbiters. They film the action, interview the subjects, and edit it in a way fair to all the players. However, no matter how one edits the footage, the Siegels are going to come off looking like some very horrible people. David is 30 years Jackie's senior and now that their funds are rapidly dwindling away, he is starting to get tired of his third wife. He hides in his office (a couch in front of a flat screen surrounded by papers and food scraps) to enjoy being away from the chaos which his house has become.
You will not envy the Siegels. They still have more money than you do, but you would never switch places with them. I walked out of the theater with a new appreciation for my situation in life knowing that most of us are normal folks going about our business and enjoy time with our family and friends. The fact that there are folks like the Siegels out there, who by the way are shocked a bank bailout did not filter down to them, makes you shake your head in shame of the human race.
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