VOD film review: Some Kind of Heaven
“Disney World for Retirees”8
Matthew Turner | On 15, May 2021
Director: Lance Oppenheim
Cast: Anne Kincer, Reggie Kincer, Dennis Dean, Barbara Lochiatto
Produced by Darren Aronofsky, this engaging, beautifully shot documentary is the debut feature of director Lance Oppenheim. It centres on The Villages, a sprawling, affluent retirement community in Central Florida, which has grown from 800 people when it opened in the mid-1980s to a whopping 130,000 people today.
The film opens with a montage sequence that shows why The Villages is frequently referred to as “Disney World for Retirees”, as residents are shown enjoying all manner of activities, from hot air ballooning to synchronised golf cart driving to singles events. These are intercut with long-time residents singing the virtues of this OAP fantasyland, with one noting: “Nobody’s from here, so it’s like high school – you can be what you want to be.”
In other hands, this could easily have been a quirky, observational piece that played up that high school comparison, showcasing The Villages’ more flamboyant personalities. However, Oppenheim has something else in mind and the film takes a much more melancholy direction as it focuses on four residents for whom the fantasy isn’t quite working out.
First, there’s Anne and Reggie, a couple who have been married for 47 years. Sporty Anne has thrown herself into everything The Villages has to offer, but Reggie finds himself out of sorts, retreating into increasingly weird meditation techniques and experimenting with illegal drugs. His “unusual” behaviour (there’s a great shot of him driving a golf cart into a sprinkler and howling) threatens both his marriage and his general well-being, eventually culminating in an excruciating court appearance.
Then, there’s Barbara, who moved from Massachusetts to The Villages with her husband, only for him to die shortly afterwards, effectively leaving her stranded, as they’d spent their savings to get there. As one of the only residents who still has to work, Barbara’s loneliness is palpable, but things look up when she forges a potentially romantic connection with golf cart salesman (and margarita expert) Lynn, who cheerfully describes himself as a frog – “I’m here till I croak”.
Finally, there’s 81-year-old freeloader Dennis, who sleeps in his van and says he came to The Villages to party, freely admitting that his goal is to find a wealthy widow to settle down with. However, that’s proving trickier than he anticipated – when we meet Dennis he says he’s had no luck finding women at the bars or the churches, but things have picked up now he’s started hanging out at the swimming pools.
Oppenheim intercuts between each of the four main subjects as their stories unfold, occasionally dropping in extra little snippets from elsewhere in The Villages, such as open house day, or a saleswoman trying to convince residents to take advantage of their pre-paid funeral plan. Accordingly, the three main storylines are extremely engaging, united by an almost overwhelming sense of sadness – it’s as painful for us as it is for Anne to watch Reggie go off the rails, while a sequence where Dennis runs into trouble and calls everyone he knows looking for a place to stay is quietly heart-breaking.
In the end, the film raises some questions that go frustratingly unanswered, because Reggie clearly has mental health issues that should have been spotted long ago. It also never reveals the exact financial requirements of The Villages and pointedly avoids any contrast with senior life outside the grounds. On top of that, you’re left wishing that Oppenheim had balanced out the sadness with one or two happier stories, or at least spent a little longer with some of the quirkier residents like the Elaines (“We are Elaine!”), a large group of women who all share the same name.