Beware the lap of luxury.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:

Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles wasn’t supposed to be this complex.  The plan was to follow the Siegels as they built the largest single family home in the U.S., capturing them in their mega-wealthy glory.  Along the way, there was sure to be the usual ridiculousness that makes the Real Housewives shows and their glitzy reality ilk so popular.  A little out of control spending here, a spoiled brat there.  Toss in some plastic surgery and a heap of verbal gaffes, and it’s just a matter of luring the built-in television audience to the movie theater.

With filming underway, however, the economy tanked and with it, the Siegels’ finances.  (Relatively speaking, that is.)  David Siegel, founder of Westgate Resorts, the world’s largest time-share company, suddenly found himself with a load of clients unable to pay and halted production on the family’s 90,000-square-foot dream home.

Almost halfway to Duggar status.
(Magnolia Pictures)

And so, the film became a far more interesting tale: that of the rich attempting to cope with a financial setback…and what the heck that situation might resemble.  As David sequesters himself in his office in search of a solution, the film focuses on his wife Jackie, 31 years his junior, and her daily domestic doings.  A former model with an engineering degree, Jackie may be smarter than the average trophy wife, but her actions indicate a complete submission to luxury.

Indeed, the bulk of The Queen of Versailles’ appeal lies in the voyeuristic bliss (and agony) of witnessing Jackie act without restraint.  Under a supposed strict budget until the family is “back on its feet,” she goes slumming, middle-class style, but with her own twist.  For lunch, she’s driven in the family limousine to McDonald’s; the private jet on lockdown, she grits her teeth and flies coach to her hometown, where she’s shocked to find that Hertz doesn’t offer chauffeurs; and in the film’s most outlandish sequence, a big to-do is made over Christmas shopping at Walmart, an outing that still equates to a no-limit spree spanning a fleet of overflowing carts.

The servant quarters.
No, seriously.
(Magnolia Pictures)

With David none the wiser and her eight children cared for by a team of Hispanic nannies (one of whom lives in a neglected single-room playhouse in the back yard), Jackie escapes for such budgetary no-nos as Botox fixes and $2,000 caviar, all while griping about how difficult her life has become.  Her perceived martyrdom, which she conveys with alarming frequency, grows old fast, yet Greenfield keeps the antics coming.  And coming.

Through this repetition, Greenfield unfortunately muddies whatever grand statement The Queen of Versailles intends to make.  Cruising along with a fine balance of the Siegels’ diamond-crusted absurdity and their employees’ legitimate financial straits, the film is entertaining and often insightful.  But as the action progresses, Greenfield continually returns to the world of excess and its simple Bravo yuks.

The Not So Big House:
Gazillionaire Edition
(Magnolia Pictures)

Assembling clip after unflattering clip, she seems more interested in ridiculing the Siegels than offering constructive commentary, and these easy targets are only amusing for so long.  Whether or not it’s her intention (which raises a whole separate issue), as presented by Greenfield, the Siegels are little more than rich buffoons, on screen for the public to despise for becoming accustomed to too much money.  When she manages to pull back, however, and examine the pieces that assemble their world, it’s clear that there’s more to their struggle than finding enough closets in which to store their possessions.

The family’s drama is one of pride, of staying in the upper echelon of the 1%.  Relinquishing that status long-term is unthinkable to David, and blasting his perseverance feels more cruel than enlightening.  It’s frustrating to see this and other pieces of a potentially intelligent film swept away in the name of further foot-in-mouth mishaps, but just as Jackie is unprepared to deal with financial change, so is Greenfield unsure how to handle the Siegels’ story once it moves beyond standard reality fare.

What a poser…
(Magnolia Pictures)

The Queen of Versailles may offer a rare and often engaging glimpse inside the world of the obscenely wealthy, but Greenfield’s handling of the material lacks clear direction. Inflating the Siegels’ story to big-screen proportions just barely elevates it over its reality TV relatives, but that’s OK.  It’ll be on Bravo in no time, sandwiched between a Housewives marathon, right where it belongs.

Grade: B-

Rated PG for thematic elements and language.

The Queen of Versailles opens on Friday, August 24 at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Road.

For more film reviews, visit The Isolated Moviegoer.

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