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'The Queen of Versailles': An Intriguing Tale of Excess

The Queen of Versailles
Magnolia Pictures

Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield is one lucky woman. The family she profiles in her latest documentary, "The Queen of Versailles" ... not so much.

Greenfield had originally set out to track the construction of David and Jackie Siegel's 90,000-square foot mansion near Orlando, which if completed would be the largest and most expensive home in America. Unfortunately for the Siegels, their undertaking never became a reality after the 2008 stock market collapse hit, forcing the billionaires to put their lot on the market.

That twist transformed what could have been a great Bravo series knockoff into a deeply sad cautionary tale for our times. For Greenfield, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. For the Siegels, it was anything but. (Case in point: Before the film even premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews, David sued the festival for describing the film as a journey of "rags to riches to rags" in a press release. Ouch.)

Not only is "The Queen of Versailles" extremely timely, it also makes for a wickedly entertaining watch. Much of that has to do with the titular queen herself, Jackie. Sporting boobs to rival the late Anna Nicole and a penchant for fast food despite her insane wealth, Jackie (a former model and beauty queen) makes for a fascinating subject. Hilarious, trashy, endearing and ultimately heartbreaking as her marriage cracks under the pressure, Jackie is who gives "The Queen of Versailles" its humor and heart.

Her husband David doesn't come off so well. Before his timeshare kingdom begins to crumble, David is seen hitting on a much younger pageant queen in his own home; telling Greenfield that he alone is responsible for the election for George W. Bush; and joking that he'll get a new wife once he gets tired of Jackie's looks. And once his empire begins to burn, David's hurtful behavior toward his wife only intensifies as his ego begins to wane.

The candidness Greenfield captures is remarkably raw. Why the Siegels continued to allow the cameras to track them after the financial crisis hit is anyone's guess. We're just sure glad they did.

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