Some Kind of Heaven
New York Times Critic’s Pick
Director: Lance Oppenheim, USA, 2020, 83 min, NR
Rental fee $12 per household.
After the film: exclusive pre-recorded discussion with the director.
Best viewed full screen or p-i-p mode.
REVIEWS & ACCOLADES
“A tragicomic combination of The Stepford Wives and an Errol Morris movie, it’s one of the best documentaries you’ll see this year … a masterclass in interviewing, editing and scoring.”
“Oppenheim finds no shortage of visual and situational comedy, and he resists easy misanthropy, showing unexpected empathy for people who have cocooned themselves from the outside world, only to confront its headaches anyway.”
“A must-see … a stylized production which recalls both Busby Berkeley musicals and the saturated Technicolor romances of the 1940’s and 50’s.”
“Darkly upbeat… Some Kind of Heaven is a solid feature debut from a bright young filmmaker who, is able to expand our understanding of the complicated lives of older Americans”
“A Remarkable Look At Living In Florida’s Fake Utopia … a fascinating palette of humanity in a documentary so real and convincing you would swear these are all actors in a movie.”
“Lance Oppenheim’s lush and immersive documentary Some Kind of Heaven develops an enticing, at times transcendent tone poem.”
ABOUT THE FILM
With Some Kind of Heaven, director Lance Oppenheim cracks the manicured facade of The Villages, America’s largest retirement community – a massive, self-contained utopia in Central Florida, modeled on ’50s suburban Americana. Behind the gates of this palm tree-lined fantasyland the documentary offers a tender and surreal look at the never-ending quest for finding meaning and love in life’s final act.
Some Kind of Heaven examines the dreams and desires of a small group of Villages residents – real people dealing with real problems in an unreal place – who are unable to find happiness within the community’s pre-packaged paradise. Oppenheim expands our understanding of the complicated lives of older Americans, as the film is about relationships – how to maintain existing ones as they change and how to remain open to the new ones forged at The Villages.
Blessed with perpetual sunshine and picture-postcard views, the lavishly decorated facilities and cozy homes are captured by Oppenheim and cinematographer David Bolen with painterly precision, a real-life manifestation of pop Americana images. The vibrant, richly colored and strikingly composed shots are supported by Ari Balouzian’s score, whose hints of lounge music and swooning strings add to the sense of pleasantly disorienting unreality.
Oppenheim: “We wanted to cinematically convey the marketing fantasy that the community promises, and strip it back to reveal the people on the margins of the community trying to realize the dream.”
A Floridian garden of earthly delights and its discontents, Some Kind of Heaven explores life inside the meticulously crafted suburban bliss offered by The Villages, the self-described “Disneyworld for Retirees.” Every day is supposed to be a good one for the 120,000+ senior citizens of The Villages: Whether residents are interested in synchronized swimming or cheerleading, tai-chi or golf cart parades, this large community of healthy retirees offers a utopian vision of a (retired) American Dream: wide, safe streets, picture-perfect landscaping, and countless activities all in service of their residents’ golden years.
While most residents have bought into the community’s blissful optimism, we meet a small group of residents – a married couple, a widow and a bachelor – living on the margins of the marketing fantasy, struggling to find footing inside the dream. Their stories explore The Villages’ consumerist promise and underscore how decamping in a fantasy land can’t actually keep life’s obstacles at a distance.
For Anne and Reggie Kincer, who have been married for 47 years, the difficulties that come with maintaining any long-term relationship are coming to a head. She’s at home in The Villages, but the wide variety of wholesome activities isn’t as good a fit for Reggie. As he experiments with drugs in search of a spiritual breakthrough, tensions build between the couple. His arrest for drug possession pushes the couple to the breaking point: as Reggie grows increasingly untethered from reality, Anne has to decide whether to stay or leave.
Barbara Lochiatto never planned on living in The Villages. A transplant who moved to the community 12 years ago with her late husband, Barbara had to find employment at The Villages following his death. Four months after his passing, she’s struggling financially and emotionally. While acting classes provide an outlet for her feelings, The Villages’ dating scene is more intimidating than inviting — at least until she meets Lynn Henry, a golf cart salesman and exuberant Jimmy Buffett fan who invites her into his lively social world.
Once a handyman to the stars, Dennis Dean has floated through one relationship after another his entire life. Now, living out of his van while avoiding officials from The Villages, Dennis is determined to find a relationship that will finally allow him financial stability. But finding a wealthier woman willing to take him in, whether at the pool or the church, proves difficult, even with guidance from a friendly local pastor. But when an old girlfriend, Nancy Davis, unexpectedly invites him to stay with her, Dennis finds his desire for comfort struggling against his desire for independence.
ABOUT THE VILLAGES
45 miles from Orlando, The Villages – the world’s largest residential community of senior citizens – is a world of its own. More than 130,000 seniors live here, four of whom are at the heart of Lance Oppenheim’s first feature, SOME KIND OF HEAVEN. Turning a sharp eye on this unusual location, Florida native Oppenheim’s portrait peels back the community’s perfectly manicured veneer with incisive wit and surprising warmth. As producer Jeffrey Soros puts it, it’s a film both “for older people, and for everyone who plans on getting old.”
Just as Belinda Carlisle was singing about heaven being a place on earth in the late 1980s, Harold Schwartz and his son Harold Gary Morse were building one in central Florida, a community they later named The Villages. They dreamed of creating a community that would resemble a “Disneyworld for retirees.” An old-fashioned town center with a complete story line of its made-up history appealed to the Baby Boomers as a sort of fantasy that reminded them of their youth.
Today, “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown,” as The Villages advertises itself, is larger in square mileage than Manhattan as it stretches across three counties.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Born about 225 miles southeast from The Villages, Lance Oppenheim and his sister/producer, Melissa Oppenheim Lano, were surrounded by retirement homes. Like most fellow Floridians, they spent most of their lives hearing and reading about the place. “I’ve heard about The Villages since I was a 12-year-old,” Oppenheim says. “If you’re from Florida, it’s almost impossible not to hear about it.”
“On a slow news day, there would be salacious articles about the place with headlines like ‘Seniors Arrested for Public Sex,’ or New York Post articles infamously reporting unfounded rumors about the community’s growing STD-rate. The place – and its residents’ sexcapades – was always treated as the punchline of a joke. To me, that missed the point. I was fascinated that over a hundred thousand retirees were uprooting their lives to cocoon themselves inside this kind of Truman Show-like fantasy world that was designed to remind them of their youth.”
And while nationally The Villages may be best known for a large base of opinionated conservative residents, Oppenheim deliberately chose to focus on people rather than politics. “I wouldn’t call this film apolitical just because it does not explicitly speak to the turbulence surrounding the 2020 election. I saw an opportunity to tell a story that went beyond partisan politics and spoke to something that I found more existentially interesting and unsettlingly relatable: the absurd lengths that many Americans go to – especially those nearing the end of their lives – to live inside of a fantasy.”
“The Villages – by design – offers a decidedly conservative vision of the American Dream, and my goal in making this film was to inhabit that fantasy and call it into question. By documenting the experiences of those who didn’t fit into the community’s advertised way-of-life, I was able to explore something more honest, open, and universal about how the human struggle – no matter how much you try to evade it – continues throughout the rest of life.”