One of those lucky documentaries that ran into a bigger story than the filmmaker could have anticipated – not that the largest house in America, the original story, wasn’t big. Instead, Lauren Greenfield wound up with a microcosm of the U.S. financial meltdown of 2008-09. Easy credit fueled David Siegel’s time-share empire and then brought it tumbling down. The shell of “Versailles” remained as a symbol of the housing bust that is still with us, years later. The movie’s miracle is that it manages to tell this story without moralizing: there are no villains onscreen (or heroes either, for that matter). Jackie, the titular queen, is clueless and tawdry, but not unsympathetic. She is never arrogant and doesn’t go around blaming others or feeling sorry for herself. We are left, mostly, with mouths agape, that there are people like this, that this is what our country has come to, and that a filmmaker could have been so close, watching this story unfold.
The highlight of this film is the Who’s Baba O’Riley, which plays during the opening and closing credits. Everything in between is just silly, starting with the characters and ending with the plot. For awhile, the rush of the bicycles in midtown Manhattan traffic carried me along, but that eventually grew tiresome and that was left was a plenitude of absurdities.
So Russian, so Dostoevsky, so Cranes Are Flying, so Crime and Punishment! The camera never moves and the characters move slowly (except, notably, the flashing lifeguard). Everything is stolid, everything so mundane. The story, too, is stolid: a murder is committed, and gotten away with, for the benefit of the least deserving young man and his similarly feckless father. There is no moral here, just rot.
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