Thursday, February 7, 2013


In 2008 David and Jacquie Siegel were at the top of the world.  David made millions from starting one of the largest timeshare businesses in the US and with his second wife Jaqueline they were in the middle of building the largest single family house in America.  Modeled on Versailles in France, this dream house was a 90,000 square foot mansion in Orlando with over 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens and a view from the top balcony of the nightly fireworks over nearby Disney World.  Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield began a film to document the Siegel's, their life and the building of their mansion when the financial collapse of 2008 happened.  That event, and it's impact on the Siegels, their business and their "Versailles" turned Greenfield's film and the Siegel's lives into something different all together from what they'd originally planned.

David Siegel made millions with his Westgate Resorts, a group of time share properties across the US.  He married Jacquie and while she may seem like a "trophy" wife since she is thirty years younger than the 74 year old David, they had seven children together and on the surface, at least in the beginning of the film, it seems like they have a stable relationship.
Over two years of filming, Greenfield manages to first show how the Siegel's dream of building their "Versailles" is almost coming to fruition.  Jacquie takes us on a tour of the half completed house and is almost giddy with excitement about showing us around the place.   But then the floor droops out and the film becomes a document of the personal impact of the real estate bubble and the impact it has on the time share mortgage game.   That game, where the monthly payments from timeshare owners fund the entire sales operation and how when those payments stop coming in, as more and more people are impacted by the economic downturn, the Westgate business starts to crumble. 

Jacquie and her kids
However since David seems to always be working, even before the economic downturn, the cameras mainly focus on Jacquie and life around their current Florida mansion, hence why the film is called the "Queen" of Versailles.  David is featured, with a couple of his scenes that are both shocking and sad as well as focuses on David's son from his first wife who runs the Vegas Westgate office, an office that quickly turns upside down after the market drops.

David's credit dries up and when you've mortgaged just about everything for your future it means even the rich billionaires like David have huge set backs.  It is one of the best "riches to rags" stories you will ever see, especially because you feel that everyone in the film is being up front and honest about what they are going through.  It is also a cautionary tale of how money problems can possibly affect a marriage.

And while Jacquie may at first appear to be your stereotypical dumb blond, she isn't.  She is smart, just uneducated in the ways of the world and her heart is in the right place.  She cares for her children and her husband and has faith that he will be able to turn things around.  Jacquie says that when she met David "he said 'trust me' and I put my trust in him" and you see how David knows how many people are holding on to the hope that he can figure out a way to turn things around. 

an aerial view of the 90,000 square foot "Versailles" outside
of Orlando about half way through construction
There are many moments that you'll remember for a long time after the film ends, these include the elaborate Christmas party where David tells his fellow party goers how he was able to buy back his outstanding $18 million dollar loan, that the bank wasn't willing to write down for him, via a third party for $3.5 million.  This shows not only how skilled David believes he is at business deals but also how the banks, the economy and the entire financial system were so far upside down they were willing to make deals just not a deal with the original owner of the loan.  Ironically, things don't go as well after Jacquie's trip back home to the small town in New York where she grew up.  That trip affords her the opportunity to reconnect with one of her best friend's from her teenage years.  That friend's house is going into foreclosure and even a $5,000 check from Jacquie that more than covers the amount owed on the mortgage isn't enough to reverse the foreclosure.

And David's frustration over the door to the house being left open and the number of lights that are left on in the house is something anyone can relate to where there was an argument over a high electricity bill.   The fact that none of the people in the house wants to step up and say that they will make sure the door is shut or that the lights are turned off if not needed, says a lot about the way these people live in an alternate world even when faced with the hard truth about their finances.  Jacquie's spending at first seems to be out of control as well, including buying Christmas gifts for her kids that include new bikes, when they already have a garage full of them, but the film also shows Jacquie's attempt to sell off some of her possessions at low prices to families who are really in need to give back to the community.

 Lessons learned include: don't take anything for granted and live within your means.  Don't mortgage everything you have and most definitely, always plan for your future.

The film was nominated by the DGA for outstanding directorial achievement and is definitely worth a Redbox rental or adding to your Netflix queue.

Trailer for the film:

Interview with Director Lauren Greenfield as well as clips from the film:

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