*SPOILER ALERT* (do you do those for documentaries?)
If you are looking for financial crisis catharsis, look no further than the documentary, The Queen of Versailles. Just saw it at The Ritzy Brixton, and it was every bit of jaw-dropping garishness the adverts promised us. The movie follows time-share godfather David Siegel, his Mrs America ‘trophy’ wife, and eight children from building America’s largest home to a tail-spin into foreclosure.
It’s a film you can bring your ‘Real Housewives’ addicts and your nerdy poli-sci friends to. And let’s face it, you can’t say that about most movies. Since filming began before the Dow took its legendary dive, it’s an accidental documentary of the crisis itself. Only, it’s not a documentary you can really relate to, unless your idea of ‘crisis’ is selling off your unfinished-America’s-biggest-mansion.
What is truly mind boggling is the extent to which the family relies on its ‘help’ to function, which becomes evident as the staff is cut from something like 17 to 2. One of the teenagers stops feeding her lizard because ‘no one was there to take me to the pet store’ to buy it food. No one is there to feed the fish, so they die too, and no one walks the dogs, so they poo all over the carpet.
It’s a mix of train wreck and laugh-out-loud comedy – Mrs Siegel eating caviar and tromping around her poo-speckled house in a fur coat, getting botox injections and shopping at Walmart. Mr Siegel trying to convince us – and himself – that he’ll get the money to save the house, the business, and his pride.
There’s something enigmatically engaging about the ‘Queen’, Jackie Siegel, who remains cheerful and hopeful even as her ‘Versailles’ castle goes into foreclosure. But Mr Siegel doesn’t bounce back so well, getting more grumpy and old-mannish, holding on desperately (and dare I say foolishly) to his TWO over-mortgaged mansions even as he lays off thousands of employees.
You can feel bad for them if you want to, and there are parts where you almost do. But at the end of the day, their kids still have a (massive) roof over their heads, and the ‘Queen’ still has like a million pairs of shoes and a couple of peacocks.
I felt bad for the lizard.