The world's largest retirement community is the subject of a truly fascinating and unsentimental documentary from Lance Oppenheim
Over and over again, we watch as the sun goes down on the palm tree-lined streets of The Villages, the world's largest retirement community. Ordinarily, these shots would serve as visually poetic musings on the lives of its elderly residents – but nothing about Some Kind of Heaven is ordinary. As the street lamps of the Florida-based community are switched on, The Villages’ bars and dance floors spark to life and the subjects of Lance Oppenheim’s discerning documentary come out to play.
Sold with the promise “Everything you’d ever want is here,” The Villages is a sunny paradise home to 132,000 baby boomers, retired and living in a supposed state of blissful relaxation. There’s eighty-one-year-old Dennis, who heads to the pool every day in pursuit of a wealthy wife, and recently widowed Barbara, who explores the vast variety of The Villages’ social activities: bowling leagues, acting classes, and even the singles club. Then there’s Reggie, who features in one of the film’s most memorable moments: he gets high, hijacks a golf buggy, and speeds through the beautifully tamed golf course while the sprinklers are on.
These personal and nuanced stories, filled with dreams that are still very much alive, are captured through a magnetically cinematic lens. With shades of Larry Sultan’s stagey photography, cinematographer David Bolen’s spellbinding composition and picturesque framing render talking heads and observational shots enchanting and mesmerising. Upholding technical skill while maintaining sensitivity for its subjects, the residing intimacy between camera and subject allows Some Kind of Heaven to feel truly embedded at the heart of this Floridian community.
While these heartwarming tales initially appear charming, under Oppenheim’s spotlight the hair-thin cracks in The Villages' so-called perfect exterior are exposed, revealing this elderly utopia as something of a fake reality. Town centre buildings are fabricated with an entirely made-up history in order to prompt nostalgia for their residents, while Bole shoots in a classic 4:3 aspect ratio, adding a layer of artificial reminiscence. Under these revelations, the magic begins to slip away.
Taking its visuals as seriously as its subjects, Some Kind of Heaven masterfully and conscientiously offers a poignant reminder that the journey towards happiness isn’t over when you retire. With its final gut-punching shot, this deeply moving portrait projects a human reality onto the homogenous image of The Villages. Unafraid to linger after the sunshine has disappeared, Oppenheim’s stirring documentary nonetheless comes to an uneasy conclusion: when it rains in Florida, it really pours.
Some Kind of Heaven is available on digital platforms from 14 May.Where to watch