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The Queen of Versailles
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Queen of Versailles is a thoroughly riveting but also disturbing documentary about a very wealthy family, the Siegels, and how they swing from one extreme (seemingly endless riches) to another (the national economic crisis threatens to bring their business to its knees). There are plenty of lessons for tweens and teens about the perils of overspending, why it's important to have realistic values regarding money, and how riches can't shield you from the harsh realities of life and business. Expect some mild swearing ("damn" and "ass"), and many displays of excess. The movie becomes deeply personal in the second half, so younger viewers may feel uncomfortable watching how a family relates to each other in times of crisis, but there's a lot to learn here.
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What's the story?
Meet David Siegel, a time-share billionaire who's building his version of Tara in Florida. The estate has 90,000 square feet of living space, a $250,000 dome, a sushi bar, baseball diamonds, and an observation deck for the Disney fireworks, among many other perks. Presiding over their household of eight children (including an adopted niece) and a large staff is Siegel's wife, Jackie, a former engineer-turned-beauty queen from modest means who's taken to her plush surroundings with gusto. She cares about her kids and her husband deeply, extravagantly. She also loves to shop; she doesn't want for anything. But then 2008 and its financial meltdown, fueled largely by bad mortgages, happens, and David's towering time-share heaven in Las Vegas is threatened with foreclosure. The company's seemingly endless source of revenue -- regular folks who want to go on vacations "like a Rockefeller" -- no longer have access to the mortgages that would fund their time-share dreams. Suddenly, the Siegels have to cut back.
Is it any good?
The Queen of Versailles hits the perfect documentary trifecta -- riveting subjects, perfect timing, and a story that starts as a single instrument but finishes as a full orchestra. Clearly, excess is at play with the Siegels. But so is the bizarro-world dream that sadly has become a reality: that we must aspire for more more more, preferably all the time. Still, it's hard to see Jackie merely as a cautionary tale. It's precisely when the economy turns to pot and David's business is frozen that she takes center stage, revealing how much in denial she is about financial realities and how much she truly cares about her family. She's a survivor, and, like the best of royalty, it's hard to take your eyes off her.
It would be so easy to hate the Siegels: They spend more in one day than some families earn in a month; they obviously don't worry much about their carbon footprint, considering that they're building a 90,000-square foot mansion; and they're prone to making let-them-eat-cake statements that would make your jaw drop. (Faced with having to rent her own car for the first time, Jackie asks the clerk whether it comes with a driver.) But the beauty of THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES is how we walk away from it feeling not hate, but humanity. Director Lauren Greenfield presents David and Jackie in three-dimensional clarity, eschewing caricature -- so easy and tempting given their outsized personas -- for complexity. And the Siegels are so interesting that you won't want to miss a single minute.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about money. What do the Siegels' habits and experiences teach us about fiscal responsibility? Parents, talk to your kids about your own values regarding spending, saving, and other financial issues.
Do you find it easy to empathize with Jackie as her economic situation changes? Can you relate to her plight, despite her wealth and her lack of awareness? How does the movie make her a sympathetic character?
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