“The Queen of Versailles” is a documentary about the Siegel family, or more specifically, Jackie Siegel, the 43 year old wife to David. The documentary falls within the vein of reality TV. The camera crew follows the family around and explores their high and low moments, their struggles with their kids, and their family fights. The focus of the documentary is Jackie, hence the name of the movie, “The Queen of Versailles.” Jackie is the centerpiece of this movie; with her facial treatments, enhanced breasts, and enough clothing to cover an army, she does not represent the rich well. Although, she gives it her best effort.
What fascinated me about this movie is David. Here the much older patriarch of the family has had his business model been torpedoed by the 2008 real estate bubble. David is the founder of Westgate Resorts; the highly successful and highly profitable time-share corporation based in Central Florida. David, like so many of us, readily took the easy money of the banks and expanded his empire outward. It was easy. The banks made it easy to expand, and people flush with easy credit, happily snapped up his timeshares. It was a winning formula.
Yet, in 2008 as the American house of cards gave away, the banks turned on David and his customers and shut off his flow of capital. The capital that David desperately needs to continue financing his construction projects that were under way, pay his employees and keep his lights on. We see the stress of fighting with the banks taking a serious toll on David. Jackie, not fully aware of the financial difficulties that the family is in, continues to burn through money as if it money is flowing from a spigot. David, a man use to be a king maker, is losing control and with it, his temper. If David had had a heart attack during filming, I would not have been surprised. I actually expect it.
As we watch this movie, it is easy to find fault with the Siegel’s and to blame them for their own problems. They are societies 1%; they flaunt their wealth with their Rolls Royce’s, private jets and their shopping sprees. However, I took no satisfaction from their demise. I know it all too well.
As 2008 unraveled, I too was caught in the credit squeeze. I had expanded my real estate holdings too far, too fast. As I begged the banks for help, I was met with repeated declines for various reasons; properties underwater, income to low, debt to income ratio out of balance. I watched as the banks began to take back my properties one by one. As I watched David struggle to hold everything together, I saw not some version of Thurston Howell the third (the millionaire from “Gilligan’s Island”) to be hated for having more money than I have. I saw him suffering the same struggles that I had experience. We were fellow victims. I wanted to have a beer with him and together we would curse the banks for the damage they had inflicted on so many.
“The Queen of Versailles” is really a very good movie: well presented, balanced and entertaining. It shows you those who we call the super-rich are not really all that much different than you are I. This movie does not demonize the 1%. It humanizes the 1%.