Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Riches to Rags to Riches

The Queen of Versailles       WWW Score: 92%

There's the 1% and then there's time-share tycoon David Siegel. Well, at one point not so long ago.

The central Florida real estate magnate's sales of vacay spots closed in on one billion bucks in 2008 - then the proverbial crap hit the nation's financial fan.

If you get some kind of sick kick watching the mighty take a fall, The Queen of Versailles will be nothing short of a schadenfreudic ball.

In actuality, the 74-year-old's trophy wife Jackie is the core of the film, the forty-something could slide into any one of the Real Housewives regurgitations without the need of an additional botox injection to the forehead.

As we first meet the buxom-enhanced, ex-beauty queen, she's holed up in her 26-thousand square foot Orlando palace with her eight kids: seven biological, one inherited. But the ridiculously roomy roost and its three fridges aren't nearly enough for the über-consuming couple, which leads us right to the documentary's title.

Redefining "grotesquely extravagant", Jackie and her super-loaded hubby begin building the most massive, most opulent, most tacky mansion in the history of mankind. The modeled-from-the-French-palace-of-the-same-name 90-thousand square foot behemoth (was to) feature: 13 bedrooms, 22 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, a 20-car garage, two tennis courts, a baseball field - which would double as the guest's parking area - a sushi bar, a stage for the kids to perform concerts and yes, the ubiquitous bowling alley.

The price tag: $100 million - that is, if it were ever to be completed beyond its current concrete foundation.

The aforementioned '08 bank meltdown put a hold on the monstrosity as it stands as just a shell of the Siegel's original vision - eerily similar to the man who was funding the thing. Siegel's time-share empire went belly up as easy access to cheap money evaporated and his newly unveiled Las Vegas towers stand to take down the entire company.

Jackie is a fascinating character; the former Mrs. Florida isn't the brainless blonde you might suspect. Holding a degree in computer engineering, Mrs. Siegel displays a reasonably competent head on her shoulders, even if she can't resist being seduced by the slew of gluttonous pleasures readily available at the very touch of her faux fingernails.

While the film's back-end undoubtedly needs an edit, it's impossible to deny there's some delight in seeing a man who once posed with a live lion, sitting on a sofa, surrounded by a stash of Staples boxes, in an office no bigger than an apartment's spare bedroom.

Not exactly the picture of prosperity.

Setting out to expose perverted excess, director/producer Lauren Greenfield accidentally stumbled into a platinum-filled vault when she picked the Siegels for her pet project.

What began as a lurid, reality show-like expose on the filthy rich blossomed into a harsh but critical life lesson: No matter how much power you possess, the sword of Damocles is perpetually perched precariously above your skull.