SOME KIND OF HEAVEN (Magnolia Pictures) (NR)
***1/2 out of ****
Instantly successful upon its inception in 1984, the Villages – the master-planned, age-restrictive community near Orlando, FL – is easily the largest and most well-known retirement facility in the world. Billed as “Disneyworld for Retirees” and “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown,” it is literally a city unto itself which, for every year between 2010 and 2017, was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. The Villages might also be the only entity of its kind to have produced nationally-broadcast TV commercials (featuring professional golfers Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez as their spokespeople).
It would have been so easy to skewer, parody, or belittle the Villages’ free-wheeling mindset and that of its residents and to his immense credit, first-time feature director Lance Oppenheim would have none of it. Unlike most of his documentarian peers, Oppenheim is truly unbiased and non-judgmental about his subject. This could have also resulted in a terribly dry and rote film, yet Oppenheim crafts the movie with emotionally-engaging narrative peaks and valleys, deft, sly humor and an eye-popping level of lush cinematography which is entirely befitting the idyllic, “wonderland” aesthetic of the Villages.
With a brisk running time of 83 minutes, “Some Kind of Heaven” never wastes a second. Correctly assuming the audience might not have ever heard of the Villages, Oppenheim assembles a rapid-fire, visual bullet-point rundown of its amenities, which is pleasantly exhausting. There is every conceivable form of age-appropriate participant sport, interest-specific clubs (including one where all the members are named “Elaine”), dining, dancing, concerts, stage plays, and the like. There are businesses whose facades are artificially aged and come with made-up (mostly tongue-in-cheek) back stories and daily synchronized golf cart drills.
If you’re a resident of the Villages and you’re bored, you’re probably in the wrong place.
That is exactly the case with Barbara. A widow from Boston and a 12-year-long resident of the Villages, Barbara is a glass-half-empty-sort who feels she made a mistake moving there and would reverse her decision if it was economically feasible. Not what most people would deem to be a “looker,” Barbara’s perpetual mope only adds to her woes. She doesn’t seem to understand why eligible men aren’t lining up at her front door. At about the halfway point, Barbara figures a make-over and some social interaction might improve her chances and it works, but not in a way she or we might have expected.
Not even an actual resident of the Villages, Dennis is an 80-something guy with a high opinion of himself living out of a van. Sometimes parked on the property or slightly outside the (unsecured) gates, Dennis is on the prowl for a Sugar Mama.
Questionably relying on a good tan, pure daring, the gift of gab, and the power of persuasion, Dennis is laser-focused on charming vulnerable single/divorced/widowed women of wealth. He’s a lounge lizard with nothing to offer besides expired come-on lines.
Arguably the most interesting half of the four leads are Anne and Reggie, a couple married of 47 years going through considerable upheaval. Based on what we’re shown and if there is an afterlife, Anne will be guaranteed immediate entrance. Patient and understanding almost to a fault, Anne is challenged on a daily basis by dealing with Reggie’s increasing dependence on multiple illegal substances and overall delusional state.
Again, it should be made quite clear, Oppenheim has made a film with a clear and unbiased eye. He’s not out to besmirch the Villages or deliver on it a negative light, but rather to offer balance. We now operate in a world where absolute bipartisan reporting and opinion ceases to exist.
The success or failure of “Some Kind of Heaven” will not have an iota’s worth of influence on the future of Villages. The movie has no agenda, which is the utmost amount of praise for any documentary. We see the good and the not-so-good without a filter.
If there is a reason to find any kind of fault with the movie, it would be that the cons don’t come close to negating the pros. There are downsides and drawbacks to every major business venture. The Villages isn’t perfect, but it is far more transparent than most all other businesses and presents an opportunity for those of a certain age group to thrive and let fly.
Of the four featured subjects, it is only Barbara who has a beef with her experience and it is mostly based on a lack of her own level of participation. Dennis is little more than a grifter who doesn’t even officially live on the property. The situation with Anne and Reggie could have happened anywhere and has little in common with the rest of the community as a whole.
The only thing absent from the film is the minor dust-up that occurred in mid-2020 regarding a squabble among the residents (all in golf carts, of course) and the presidential election. Given the lead time of most movies, it could be entirely possible that principal photography on the film wrapped before the Democratic nominee in the race had yet to be determined.
From entertainment, information and production value perspectives, “Some Kind of Heaven” is indeed a rare bird. It presents facts in a non-judgmental manner and dares the viewer to make their own conclusions. For that reason alone, it is a worthy investment of your time and money.
“Some Kind of Heaven” is currently available on a multiple of on-demand platforms.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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