Some Kind of Heaven | ★★★ | Available now on demand
If Baby Boomers molded the American Dream, as we know it, in their image, perhaps they deserve the fresh hell Lance Oppenheim’s new documentary serves up on a plastic saucer. Some Kind of Heaven follows a handful of seniors in The Villages, a massive Florida retirement community that seems to have it all: rolling hills of golf courses, synchronized swimming, a Jimmy Buffet-themed nightclub, stunning beach sunsets, and a small-town feel lifted straight from the set of Mayberry.
“We needed to create this place—not brand-new; we wanted to create it old,” explains Harold Swartz, The Village’s co-founder and conceptual architect.
But the veneer of the American Dream, as picturesque as high-definition can render, only scratches the surface of life’s final chapter. Lacking in depth, the film left me wanting more.
Here, heaven is kind of like Disney World for people in their sunset years. Folks flock to The Villages from all over and, like incoming college freshmen, are given the chance to reinvent themselves while pursuing life’s simple pleasures. Some of them are single and looking for love, while others just want one last hurrah. It’s a fantasy, and of course, fantasies have their limits.
“It’s not the real world,” says Anne, one of the movie’s central characters. “We live in a bubble.”
The Villages boasts a population of more than 130,000 residents, with a median age of 68, but the film follows just four. Reggie and Anne are a couple who have been married for 47 years, but their marriage has hit a rough patch, mostly spurred by Reggie’s late-life drug crisis. Next, there’s Barbara, a cynical Bostonian widow hoping companionship will rekindle her thirst for life. The maraschino cherry in this Old Fashioned is Dennis, a perpetually single 81-year-old party boy living out of his van while searching for a monied honey to shack up with.
At times, the film’s close coverage of these characters feels claustrophobic. While their stories are unique and compelling, I found myself craving a more panoramic view of The Villages—particularly the ever-present specter of death churning under the fabricated cobblestone and the clock-work mechanisms that ensure dinner is served on time and the piña coladas never run dry.
The film is finely shot and tightly edited, helped amply by the bright vistas, floral prints, and the sort of kitsch interiors only a highly curated retirement community can provide. You can feel the ominous pull of producer Darren Aronofsky at certain points in the film, but it never quite goes off the rails à la Black Swan, and ends, instead, on a hopeful note that feels strangely unearned.
Now, onto the spoilers: Dennis finds a gal to move in with, but realizes he prefers his freedom. Reggie and Anne rekindle their marriage (despite Anne deserving so much more), and Barbara realizes her spark is her darkness and chooses to dance with it.
In the end, the specter that Dennis, Reggie, Anne, and Barbara can’t outrun isn’t death—it’s themselves. That’s a bittersweet sentiment, but also a story we’ve seen many times before.
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