Review: ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ skims the surface of life inside retirement mecca the Villages
“We wanted audiences to watch the film … in a mode that’s more experiential and less informational than most documentaries,” says director Lance Oppenheim about his first feature doc, “Some Kind of Heaven.” But despite its merits, this wry look at several beleaguered senior citizens living in the world’s largest retirement community — Central Florida’s the Villages — is often undercut by this telescoped approach.
There’s a difference between being “less informational” and less contextual. And this is where Oppenheim, who also co-edited and was a producer (along with, among others, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky), falters given the wealth of physical and emotional dissection someplace as singular as the Villages nearly demands.
Bits of history and background are included — the vast complex was developed during the late 1980s and boasts an estimated 130,000 seniors (including about 20,000 singles) — but the film doesn’t sufficiently dig beneath the site’s glossy, kooky surface. It largely relies on a host of colorful, shrewdly captured images (hat tip to cinematographer David Bolen) of this “Disneyland for Retirees” — with its endless leisure activities, throwback-style storefronts and manicured blocks — to provide editorial comment.
As for the movie’s four stars — the long-married Anne and Reggie Kincer, widow Barbara Lochiatto and bachelor Dennis Dean — they may be representative of those for whom the Villages’ party-all-the-time, life-is-grand, you-never-have-to-leave deal proves something short of paradise. But these folks’ tales aren’t always intriguing or provocative enough to warrant such primary focus. As a result, the film can make for somewhat tepid viewing despite Oppenheim’s appealingly off-kilter observational style, which evokes the early work of documentarian Errol Morris (“Gates of Heaven,” “Vernon, Florida”).
The Kincers, about to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary, have become a mismatched pair: Anne enjoys the Villages’ social and athletic amenities, while Reggie seems to be disconnecting from reality, acting loopy, and dabbling in drugs and Eastern spirituality. When he’s arrested for cocaine possession, the pair’s marriage takes a downward turn and it’s unsure whether they’ll stay together. There’s so much to unpack between these two that’s mostly only touched upon, making it hard to fully sympathize with Anne or connect at all with Reggie.
Barbara moved to the Villages with her husband, since deceased, and hasn’t had the resources to leave and return to her beloved Boston. Quiet and self-conscious, the kindly rehab center worker is decidedly not cut out for the community’s whoop-it-up atmosphere. When she meets Lynn, a jaunty, margarita-obsessed golf cart salesman (the place is all about the golf carts) who might be romantically interested, she journeys out of her comfort zone to awkward, if poignant, effect.
But what made Barbara the shy flower that she seems to be? And is there truly no possible way for her to blow this popsicle stand and move back north?
Finally, there’s Dennis, a purported former “handyman to the stars” with legal troubles, who squats on the grounds of the Villages, living out of his van. At 81, he’s spent his life drifting in and out of relationships and is now on the hunt for a solvent woman he can hook up with and, let’s call it what it is, mooch off. Though Dennis is no prize package and his “gift of gab” is as transparent as Saran Wrap, he persuades an ex-girlfriend to let him live with her, for a while anyway.
As with the other characters, more specifics about Dennis’ personal history — he alone is a most unreliable narrator — might have helped explain a lot and better align us with this low-rent Lothario. And really, how old is his seemingly perceptive mother, whom we hear in a phone call? And what’s that relationship been like all these years?
It should also be said that the phrase “Make America Great Again” was practically invented for this 1950s-vibing hot spot. But its residents’ well-known conservative bent is never broached. (The Villages gained notoriety last year — after filming was completed — as hostilities between its Trump and Biden supporters hit some ugly lows.) This is an intentional omission by Oppenheim — as is the lack of any mention of how white, Christian and heterosexual the community looks to be — again allowing the visuals to speak for themselves.
It’s easy enough to take this brisk documentary at face value and enjoy it for the well-shot curio that it is. And Oppenheim, just 24, is a talent to watch. Still, this movie shouldn’t preclude — and, who knows, may even inspire — a more definitive documentary about this debatable slice of “heaven.”
'Some Kind of Heaven'
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Playing: Available Jan. 15 on VOD
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