Monday, August 26, 2013

Film Review: The Queen of Versailles

Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Magnolia Pictures
Rated: PG
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:
The Queen of Versailles is a character-driven documentary about a billionaire family and their financial challenges in the wake of the economic crisis. With epic proportions of Shakespearean tragedy, the film follows two unique characters, whose rags-to-riches success stories reveal the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. The film begins with the family triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America, a 90,000 sq. ft. palace. Over the next two years, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis. Major changes in lifestyle and character ensue within the cross-cultural household of family members and domestic staff. -- (C) Magnolia


I added this film to my instant queue on Netflix a while back because who doesn't find rich people intriguing. I wasn't sure how much I was going to like the movie because I could see it being more like bad reality television than anything else. While there were definitely parts there that can also be found in reality television, I think this film was much more thoughtful than the large majority of reality television. Yes, part of the entertainment of watching the film is marveling over rich people and their lives, but the film also looks at that lifestyle in a much different way then most reality television.

The film starts before the economic crisis when the Siegal family is building what is supposed to become the largest single family home in America. It's a replica of Versailles, and although you only get to see the house in construction, it still looks incredibly impressive. Then, the economic crisis hits, and you watch the family struggle financially. They never go into detail over how badly they're suffering. David Siegal at one points says something along the lines of not wanting everyone to think that they're penniless because they're not, and I'm sure that they were still fairly well off in comparison to most Americans. Still, it's this horrible life change for them, and it's intriguing to watch. You just have to marvel over their lifestyle even when they're going through a financial crisis. The film also looks at their business during the financial crisis, and it's those parts that got me a bit emotional, especially when they talk about the number of workers that they had to lay off.

I think what I loved most about the film is that even though marveling at rich people is what initially draws you in, the film does an excellent job of reminding you that these people are human. They're spoiled and a bit oblivious a lot of the time, but they're definitely human. One of the kids actually makes a remark once that she knows her parents' marriage isn't about love and that her dad just married her mom to be a trophy wife. That statement seems to be true based on what you can tell from the film, but you can also tell that Jackie Siegal seems to be trying extremely hard to make her marriage a happy one, but she's constantly brushed aside by her husband. It's sad. There are also plenty of other bits like that throughout the film that make you feel for the family, even as you continue to marvel over how disconnected they seem to be and the tons of cool stuff they own.

I recommend this film to anyone. If you enjoy reality television, then you'll definitely enjoy this film, but I think almost anyone will. Yes, it contains many of the aspects that draw people to reality television, but it it also much more intelligent than that. It is an extremely interesting look at the Siegal's lifestyle.

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