This film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Getting older sucks, but it doesn’t have to. Enter The Villages, a Florida retirement community billed as the “Disneyland for Retirees.” Everything is perfect: the residents are smiling, dancing, and enjoying life. There are numerous clubs and activities (including a golf cart drill team), a sea of palm trees and golf courses, and the lot are a friendly bunch.
On the surface, it’s Utopia. But “Some Kind of Heaven,” an exceptionally well made documentary from first-time feature director Lance Oppenheim, explores the lives of four residents living on the margins as they struggle to find their happiness. It’s a slam-dunk as far as docs go, owing as much to the quirky cast of subjects as the filmmaker.
In a fantasy land like The Villages, it shouldn’t be hard to be happy. Everything reeks of manufactured nostalgia, and rightfully so: the community was developed from fiction. Even the “historical” buildings have carefully invented back stories, and the cheerful exterior of manicured lawns and countless activities hides a darker underbelly lingering beneath the surface.
Barbara, Dennis, Anne, and Reggie all struggle with growing older. There’s illegal drug abuse, the stress of finding friends, realizing the inevitable mental deterioration that’s beginning to rear its ugly head, the depression that arises from the death of a life partner, and hitting rock-bottom when your life savings run out.
All of this sounds very bleak, but Oppenheim’s documentary is anything but. The residents come here to enjoy life, not dwell on death, and it’s inspiring to see these seniors living their best lives in the time they have left. It’s an honest, open, and deeply human look at getting older.