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February 6, 2013

Rags-to-riches documentary ends badly

— Some truly stellar documentaries have cast light recently on the global financial crisis that struck with devastation in 2008, such as the 2011 Academy Award winner "Inside Job" or the beautifully shot "Detropia."

I would add to that list Lauren Greenfield's jaw-dropping "The Queen of Versailles," described as a "rags-to-riches-to-rags" story.

If you find detailed economic analysis intimidating and interviews with talking heads dull, "The Queen of Versailles" might be for you. Think of it as "The Real Housewives of Economic Collapse."

Greenfield began the project intending to document the lives of Jackie and David Siegel as they build the largest family home -- dubbed Versailles -- in the United States. Where the story leads will leave you amused, surprised, sympathetic and even angry.

Self-made billionaire David Siegel is the founder and owner of Westgate Resorts. His much younger wife is a paradox; the former Mrs. Florida is fond of Botox, spray tans and plastic surgery, yet she's also a doting mother to eight children, loyal wife and former IBM computer engineer.

Despite her penchant for dropping $1 million a year on clothes, Jackie seems like a sweet, if somewhat clueless, person. She attends her son's Little League games and volunteers in the snack bar. She adopted her niece, who had been living in poverty and neglect.

While getting her hair done, she grabs her phone and hilariously orders a 50-piece McNugget from McDonalds, "with all the sauces." She even sends her childhood friend a check to save her home.

Her husband, on the other hand, comes across as an arrogant control freak, albeit an intelligent, hardworking one. He takes credit for personally getting George W. Bush elected, both times, and is prone to statements such as "I've changed a lot of people's lives. A lot of people are better off having known me."

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