“Goddamn, our house is falling apart,” Dave Siegel says in one of the opening scenes of Lauren Greenfield’s, ‘Queen of Versailles.’ In this case, Siegel, the king of the Westgate Resorts empire, is simply referring to the zoo-like atmosphere in the family’s eight-person mini van as they approach their 30-bedroom, unfinished mansion near Orlando, Florida. As the movie progresses however, Siegel’s statement takes on a whole new meaning. Soon everything, from the Siegel’s timeshare empire, to their sky scraping Westgate office building in Vegas to the house itself – the American “Versailles” – begins to come crashing down. At the height of the Westgate empire, the world’s largest vacation timeshare company, Jackie and Dave Siegel sit atop their billions and view the world as if they were new-age, American royalty. Nearly every facet of their lives oozes of gluttonous luxury. From white tiger appearances at their children’s birthday parties to Jackie Siegel’s size triple F tits, examples of their extravagance and utter indulgence are everywhere. They are, in no uncertain terms, the “one percenters” that become easy targets in times of economic strife. But bless their souls, piles of money as big as theirs aren’t easy to hide, and so they don’t even try.
Love them or hate them; the Siegels uncensored
Part of the fun of Greenfield’s film is the uncensored, candid look into the family’s life of over-indulgence. They have an army of Filipino housemaids, are often chauffeured around town in a Rolls Royce and spare no expense when it comes to the construction of their dream home (“This is what $5 million in marble looks like,” Jackie says when the film crew follows her into the unfinished palace’s garage. The slabs of stone sit there as nonchalantly as a vase of flowers a normal family might place on a modest kitchen table.) It’s easy to hate them, sure, but soon it becomes just as easy to love them. As viewers find out, financial disasters know no bounds, and have the potential to bring everyone, including the ultra-rich, to their knees. Westgate’s customers, middle-class income earners who mostly bought expensive timeshares on credit, are no longer so eager to show up to hear fancy Westgate sale pitches. And the company itself, which Dave says was “addicted to cheap money,” can no longer afford to keep making payments on its 52-story PH Westgate Towers building, prime real estate on the Vegas Strip. For the Siegel family, this means they must halt construction on their Versailles palace. It sits sad and unfinished; its skeletal structure naked and incomplete.
The Queen herself
Jackie, the “queen” herself, quickly becomes the star of the film, and for good reason. As a small-town girl from middle America, Jackie regularly reminds viewers that she never planned this life for herself. She grew up modestly, and surprisingly enough, went to school to learn computer science and soon got a job at IBM. After deciding she didn’t want to waste her life away in a cubicle, she turned to beauty competitions, and won the title of Mrs. Florida 1993. She met Dave at a beauty pageant, and now we see what a strange thing she has become: she is living example of the phrase, “you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl.” We watch her eat $2,000 caviar in one scene, and then shove McDonald’s fries down her throat the next. Likewise, she slips on Gucci high heels and takes the kids to Wal-Mart. Jackie seemingly lives in two worlds, and this makes her extremely relatable, never mind the fact that most of us will never own anything as expensive as Jackie’s cheapest designer handbag.
Life in a fantasy world
And this is what ultimately holds Queen of Versailles together. By the end of the film, I was generally rooting for the Siegels; I wanted them to make it, and I wanted them to be okay. In one scene, Dave addresses the fact that the family isn’t “struggling” by any means, but as we watch him retreat away from his family under the financial stress of Westgate, and Jackie’s repeated attempts to reconnect with him, it’s almost as if you forget about how much money these people truly have. In one of the final scenes of the film, we see Jackie Siegel outside her (finished) home in Florida. It’s evening, and she remarks how beautiful the courtyard is, and how it’s one of her favourite spots. Maybe it isn’t so bad if her dream Versailles palace doesn’t happen, she says. And then, as if becoming conscious for the first time of her insane wealth and unbelievable lifestyle, she says, “I’m in this fantasy world!”
Yes Jackie, you are. And for 100 minutes, we were in it with you, and the trip was worth every penny.
Jackie Siegel quotes, in order of greatness:
1. “This is the staircase I would go up if I were to visit the children.” – Referencing the massive, Cinderella-style staircase in the “Versailles” palace.
2. “That’s not my room, that’s my closet.”
3. “This is what $5 million in marble looks like.”
4. “What’s my driver’s name?” – Speaking to an employee at Hertz Rental
5. “Oh look! I got the giant ones!” – Walking through her storage facility of items meant for the Versailles house and noticing the massive Faberge egg statues she (apparently) forgot she bought.