The Queen of Versailles

Location: 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino

I’m not a Monday kinda gal. In fact, I’ve been making every effort to bring some sparkle to this dreaded day by making plans with my boyfriend after work to have something to look forward to throughout the day as I get re-acclimated to the routine of the work week. This past Monday was especially filled with some “sparkle” to say the least.

Having been a patron of the historic Laemmle Theaters on the west side of the city for quite some time now, I was excited to finally visit The Town Center 5 in Encino to indulge in my OBSESSION for documentary and independent cinema. There’s something so endearing about actually having to buy tickets through a window, sitting in an old movie theater, and eating decently priced popcorn – with FREE parking, no less.

Tonight’s flick? The Queen of Versailles, one of the most fascinating cinematic experiences I’ve had this summer. 1 hour and 40 minutes of complete access to seeing how the other side lives.

The film chronicles the lifestyles of the rich and *semi* famous (I had never heard of them prior to the movie). Billionaire couple, David and Jackie Siegel, are in the midst of building the most expensive home in the United States, an astounding 90,000 square foot American castle modeled after their love of the Palace of Versailles in France.Talk about “champagne wishes and caviar dreams!” I could literally hear Robin Leach in my head during the first half hour of the film as director Lauren Greenfield takes us into a world filled with chauffeurs, maids, nannies, private planes, closets filled with high-end in designers, diamonds, and Jackie Siegel’s very obvious boob job.

Until…

…the economic meltdown that will forever be the Year of our Lord, 2008. Though David and Jackie struggle in their own right (but still seemed to be living the high life compared to us 99 “percent-ers”) we are instantly transitioned into how this time impacts their spending, their family dynamic, and their relationship. I wouldn’t call this a riches-to-rags story, because the Siegels still slept in a mansion every night and not under a freeway; but cutting their personal house staff from 19 to 4 (with 8 children), taking commercial flights when traveling, shopping for Christmas presents at Walmart, and getting into disagreements about not turning off the lights in the mansion to conserve electricity bills are the highlights of their difficulties.

What resonated about the film is that you’d assume that people this wealthy would be completely mean-spirited, spoiled, and disillusioned; but there is a humanity to them that doesn’t make you hate the Siegels as you exit the movie theater. Jackie might look like your typical blonde trying to battle the aging process, married to an affluent man 30 years her senior, who is somewhat unenlightened about what is going on with her family’s finances; but she has such a charm and presence on-screen that you’re drawn to her. She’s funny, has an honesty about her that’s refreshing, studied engineering (hello!?!), and shares her compassionate side by loaning a good friend $5,000 when her house is in jeopardy of foreclosure. The fact that she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her personal finances alludes more to her disconnection from her husband, who in contrast is taking their economic hardships with great strife. By the end of the film, David has gone from a jovial, hardcore supporter of the Miss America Pageant festivities and women in general; to a man who barricades himself inside of a cluttered man cave, completely ignorant (or uninterested) of the family life around him.

The film doesn’t end with things on the mend, instead it depicts what we’re all still dealing with nearly 4 years later: making compromises to deal with the changing economic climate and reassessing how we spend.

I walked away from this film with three feelings:

{1}. No matter where you are in life and your set-point in your lifestyle, it seems that it’s never enough. Prior to the financial crisis and even during it, the Siegels seem to have it all: Wealth (or at least still more money than most), health, family and friends. Perhaps this is the best example of “having it all” but still feeling it’s not enough. The takeaway being that if billionaires still need more, we’re all in trouble.

{2}. There is such a thing as “too much” and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee your continued success. David Siegel, despite his initial accomplishments, was not exempt from the happenings of 2008, nor did he seem to be prepared to deal with the day when his fortune might be threatened. And p.s. – Why would anyone want to live in a 90,000 square foot home?

{3}. I promise I paid attention to the film, but spent at least half the movie staring directly at Jackie’s chest wondering how she doesn’t experience severe daily back pain?

A sparkling Monday night indeed!

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3 thoughts on “The Queen of Versailles

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