In Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles, the lending crisis’ fallout trickles up as well as down, showering ruin on time-share mogul David Siegel and his wife, Jacqueline. No less constructed than any of her husband’s complexes, which offer people of modest means a fleeting taste of the good life, working-class beauty queen Jackie is a cosmetic monstrosity, as plasticized and overinflated as her buddy Donatella Versace, but Greenfield bores through her Botox-hardened skin, finding a subject whose lack of self-awareness makes her alternately endearing and repellent.
Like so many Americans, including those who’ve made no-money-down investments in Siegel’s resorts, the couple is leveraged to the hilt; so when the economic crisis hits, they’re totally unprepared for the credit freeze. The Vegas skyscraper planned as the crown jewel of Siegel’s empire is shuttered before it’s open, and the 90,000-square-foot house — the one that gives the film its title — that was to be the world’s largest private dwelling stalls out as a half-built shell.
By focusing on Jackie rather than her prickly, short-tempered husband, Greenfield elicits surprising sympathy for her 1-percent protagonists, although at the price of severely limiting the film’s scope. Siegel talks about the crushing decision to lay off 5,000 workers, but they remain numbers on a balance sheet. Greenfield and her film fall prey to a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome, glossing over those whom her subjects have themselves held hostage.