Some Kind Of Heaven


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Some Kind Of Heaven
"Sympathies increasingly lie with the women."

Those who imagine retirement communities as places mostly filled with folk moving from their perch watching daytime TV to a sun lounger and back again will be thinking again after paying a trip to Florida's The Villages with Lance Oppenheim's Some Kind Of Heaven.

This sprawling community of 150,000 residents and counting - which is also profiled in more detailed upcoming documentary The Bubble - is framed not as somewhere where those with enough money go to die but where they go to live their lives to the full and might be viewed less as the autumn of life than a second chance to throw themselves into a spring break mentality.

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After setting the scene with some glimpses of the classes on offer - from rowing to golf buggy driving, the latter surely one of the most intrinsically comic creations on the planet - Oppenheim takes us inside the lives of a handful of residents to specifically consider the impact this "Disney World for retirees" has on relationships.

The director and his researchers have chosen wisely, so that we chiefly follow Anne and Reggie, married for 47 years, but whose happy ever after is becoming clouded by Reggie's new-found penchant for drugs; Barbara, whose husband died after they moved to the community and who finds it is lonely in the crowd; and single octogenarian Dennis, a flat-broke ageing hustler who lives out of his car and is on the hunt for a wealthy widow to shack up with.

There are face-to-face interviews here, but Oppenheim more generally steps back and simply observes everyone as they go about their business. Sympathies increasingly lie with the women. Anne is grappling with what to do about her increasingly out of it hubby - "They think you're unusual," she tells him in a typically understated moment when he asks what her friends think of him - and it's clear that years of playing second fiddle make it hard for her to find her voice. Barbara, meanwhile, is trying to make the best of things, even if she wishes she had the money to move back to Massachusetts. In one of the film's cleverest segments, we see her relating the story of a meet-cute she had with a golf buggy (they're everywhere!) salesman to a hairdresser, which is sharply intercut with the exchanges as they happened.

Although it's never spelt out, it's clear that thanks to shorter lifespans cutting the competition, it's much easier for men to play the field in a community like this, where widows outnumber widowers. Some Kind Of Heaven occasionally threatens to move into interesting, more wider considerations - such as the "faux gated" nature of the community or its entirely made up "historical" element that sells a sort of ersatz nostalgia - but if you're interested in wider issues about the community and its place within the broader fabric then Valerie Blankenbyl's The Bubble is the film to seek out. Oppenheim and his editors keep things more on an anthropological level and if something of the bigger picture is lost, they deserve credit for noticing the little things, both kind of funny and kind of sad that go to make what more than one resident describes as, "The last hurrah".

Reviewed on: 13 May 2021
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Behind the gates of a palm tree-lined fantasyland, four residents of America’s largest retirement community, The Villages, FL, strive to find happiness and meaning.

Director: Lance Oppenheim

Year: 2020

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2020

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If you like this, try:

The Bubble