The Villages is America’s (and possibly the world’s) largest retirement community. Smack-bang in the middle of retirement-central Florida, The Villages is a small town unto itself, home to around 100,000 residents.
Experienced short-documentary director Lance Oppenheim takes his first plunge into the feature genre with this engaging and fresh portrait of ageing, Some Kind of Heaven. Along with the expected broad-brush background of the community itself, Oppenheim focusses on the lives of a small selection of residents.
Anne and Reggie have been married for 47 years. Still fit and active, they seem like the perfect Villages residents. But Reggie is starting to experiment heavily with drugs, and displaying worrying behaviour. Anne finds herself torn between her wedding vows, and her desire to leave. Barbara, a home-sick Bostonian, was convinced to move to The Villages by her (now) late husband. She finds herself widowed relatively young, still having to work, lonely, and stuck in Florida while her heart is in Massachusetts. We follow her as she meets Lynn, a charming and social man, for whom she begins to develop feelings. And finally there is Dennis, a supremely unlikeable man, broke, living in his van, hanging around The Villages trying to hook up with a wealthy woman, yet still demanding that she look good on his arm. And he’s no oil-painting himself!
The comfortable, resort-living retirement is the apotheosis of the American Dream. One which was reasonably achievable in the 80s when The Villages was first built, but much less so now. Oppenheim doesn’t set out to explore that aspect (we have Nomadland for that). Instead, he tells the story of ageing and retirement through his chosen subjects. No amount of money can prevent your partner’s early death, or their mental disintegration. You can live in a friendly community of thousands of your peers, and still be lonely. And that loneliness can lead you to stay in a bad relationship, or settle for a partner who doesn’t really appreciate you.
Some Kind of Heaven is beautifully shot, thanks to David Bolen’s vibrant cinematography. Oppenheim allows his subjects to speak to camera with seemingly little prompting. And the stories unfold organically in a way which seems almost scripted. It is a documentary which morphs into an almost mythical narrative. Above all, it is gripping film-making.
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Some Kind of Heaven is available on Google Play, Amazon and Apple TV.