Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA/The Netherlands/United Kingdom/Denmark, 2012. Evergreen Pictures, BBC Storyville, Impact Partners, Candescent Films, Plus Pictures, Danmarks Radio, Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep. Cinematography by Tom Hurwitz. Produced by Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Lauren Greenfield. Music by Jeff Beal. Film Editing by Victor Livingston.
Director Lauren Greenfield hit the jackpot when her documentary about the Siegel family, intended to chart their building of the largest home in America, instead became an examination of the economic crisis when, during filming, the subject family’s business collapsed, their fortunes went south and their home was left unfinished and derelict on its Orlando property. David Siegel made a massive fortune on timeshare properties that led to the creation of a huge tower in Las Vegas and a lifestyle that included a mansion and private jets. His wife Jackie is the focus of the film, whose facade as a typical trophy wife (thirty years younger, permanent tan and blonde hair and some other physical enhancements as well) turns out upon further examination to reveal much more: she has a strong educational background, a healthy attitude towards her wealth (she enjoys it while never forgetting where she comes from) and, when the bad times hit, turns out to be the one person holding her family (which includes seven kids and umpteen un-housetrained dogs) together. Siegel’s fate is among the most emblematic of the crash, going from kingpin luxury to switching off lights to save on the bill in a short period of time; Jackie’s reaction is to insist that the family accept their reduced circumstances while also keeping a positive, can-do attitude about it (with the occasional shopping spree which shows that she’s having difficulty practising what she preaches). Greenfield’s gift to the audience is that this fascinating documentary never either judges its subjects or emotionally manipulates you into sympathy; Jackie is an incredibly likeable protagonist with a strong moral centre, but her life has provided her with a number of excesses that you enjoy eyeballing here. Either way, there’s never a moment when you aren’t completely sucked in by her mind-blowing tale.