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Sundance 2012. Lauren Greenfield’s “The Queen of Versailles”

“Like a Theodore Dreiser novel for our time, infused with the vivid, vulgar spirit of reality TV.”
The DailyThe Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles, which opened Sundance's US Documentary Competition on Thursday "is like a Theodore Dreiser novel for our time, infused with the vivid, vulgar spirit of reality TV," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It often had the sold-out Eccles Center howling, but also has elements of profound tragedy and allegory."

Kenneth Turan sets up the tale of David and Jackie Siegel in the Los Angeles Times: "Jackie was the 43-year-old former beauty queen with an engineering background; David was her 74-year-old husband, father of her seven children and the founder, president and chief executive of Westgate Resorts, at the time the largest privately owned time-share entity in the world. And then there was the House. Not the 26,000-square-foot Florida house they currently lived in. Oh, no. This was a new residence, modeled on Versailles, a 90,000-square-foot mega-mansion with 10 kitchens, 30-plus baths and a closet so big the uninitiated have mistaken it for the master bedroom. That house."

"Then the 2008 crash comes, the time-share industry takes a dive, and things get tough for the Siegels," writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "To a certain extent, Greenfield gives her subjects enough rope to hang themselves as they moan over their diminished economic clout. David paints a picture of callous bankers who, having made him addicted to cheap credit, are now yanking the rug out; Jackie whines that she thought the federal bank bailout was supposed to eventually benefit 'the common people... us.' The lack of self-awareness is staggering. But it's also clear that on some level Greenfield likes these boors — that she gives them more credit than they deserve for small virtues, and bizarrely views their hyperbolic selfishness as a crystallization of the American Dream."

"The one problem with The Queen of Versailles is that it ends before the story does," finds the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "David and his lifestyle are on the way down, but we never learn where the bottom is, and the movie unfortunately leaves us hanging. This is a built-in problem for documentary filmmakers who put years into following their subjects but have to call 'cut' sooner or later. I wanted more of the Siegels, even as I found them painful to watch."

The LA Weekly's Karina Longworth did not want more, but before we get to that, she comments on the lawsuit David Siegel's filed against Sundance for blurbing the film in their catalog as a "rags to riches to rags story" even though he himself refers to the turn of events as a "riches to rags" story: "If he had any self-awareness at all, he'd be more concerned about a number of other on-screen statements. In a talking head interview with Greenfield and in archival news footage, he personally takes credit for the election of George W Bush; speaking to Greenfield, he won't specify his role 'because it might not have been necessarily 100% legal.'… The sense that the Siegels have become trapped not just by their own gluttony but also by their guileless submission to Greenfield's camera is compounded by the fact that the film is way too long. Ironically, Greenfield's inability to part with her high-quality material even when it's redundant mirrors the problem faced by her subject. There's a scene in which one of Jackie's nannies brings a just-purchased new bike into the garage, and simply shakes her head at the pile of unused bikes already there. Greenfield doesn't know when to stop buying bikes."

More from David D'Arcy (Screen), Daniel Fienberg (HitFix), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Noel Murray (AV Club, A-). Anne Thompson reports that Magnolia Pictures has picked up North American rights.

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