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Arts & Culture

The Queen of Versailles

A billionaire, a beauty queen and popped bubble produce fireworks and humanity in affecting locally tied documentary

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So it is that we're left to anticipate the fall of this local empire, pointing and laughing when Siegel boasts about his legally murky support of George W. Bush while sitting on a gilded chair that looks like a throne, a bust of Louis XIV over his shoulder. We cringe when Jackie shows off what is to be her bedroom-sized closet. Whatever they've done to their investors, it'd take a lot more than financial and ethical obliviousness for me to enjoy the kind of schadenfreude that involves the ruination of a household of children. Besides, if I wanted to watch a surgically enhanced trophy wife play Russian roulette with a bank account and pretend lines like "What's the name of my driver?" at a rental-car place aren't the slightest bit staged, I'd watch Ice Loves Coco. (Actually, I do.)

On repeated viewings, however, Greenfield's humanity and empathy start to shine through, particularly in the case of Coco – er, Jackie, a beauty pageant bombshell who came from humble means and, when the crisis hits, starts to seem far more equipped for austerity measures than her husband, who, tellingly, is a sulking, bitter man when the lines of credit start to close up. While he hopes for a miracle, hidden away in a TV-room cavern of self-pity, Jackie adapts before our very eyes – well, she gives it an admirable shot. We also meet her childhood friend who refuses to ask Jackie for money to save her house. (Jackie gives it to her anyway, but it's too little too late.)

Taken at face value, The Queen of Versailles reveals nothing about the rich that isn't plainly evident on the E! Network. But its most surprising quality is also Jackie's: endurance. After all the pointing and laughing subsides – and, boy, is it ever in order – what's left are human beings switching to survival mode, something that the 99 percent of us (and the fallen 1 percent alike) can certainly relate to.

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