Dir: Lance Oppenheim | US Doc
A life of eternal holidays beckons in a Florida retirement complex in the opening scenes of Lance Oppenheim’s thought-provoking first feature.
Days of sun-drenched relaxation by the pool or a round of golf before cocktails with other mature singles – 130,000 to be precise – all sounds ideal at first, but we all know the reality is quite different. And so does Lance Oppenheim who has made a series of shorts exploring the world of leisure and here digs deeper in his complex exposé of the Florida retirement community who on the surface appear to be thriving in their golden days of freedom.
A sunny place for shady people is how Somerset Maugham described the Cote d’Azur. And South Florida seems to be the US equivalent. A cheerful opening sees well-preserved residents frolicking in palm-fringed paradise. But gradually the clouds gather and the tone grows almost sinister as Oppenheim reveals the truth behind The Villages idyl. Party time gradually descends into a nauseating round of chipper chat-up lines as seedy gold-diggers and petty criminals bask ill-disguised in dapper sombreros, perma tans and Pierre Cardin sportswear, blonde brush-overs barely ruffled by the sultry breeze.
And it doesn’t come cheap. The Villages’ brochure boasts a 401K price tag for this idyllic existence. Most denizens have traded in their urban lifestyles for this semi-tropical resting place – so there’s going back to normality however jaded the guilded cage becomes.
Marriages forged for decades can finally take a turn for the worse, and it’s the women we sympathise with, rather than the men: Anne and Reggie have been married for 47 years, but now find themselves seeking counselling as Reggie turned to cocaine to make his newfound ‘bliss’ bearable. The judge calls him “the rudest person he has ever met” during his court hearing. You feel for Anne as she calmly hopes for the best, patiently talking Reggie through another day.
Barbara is another appealing character whose soulful expression speaks of tragedy back in Boston where she was widowed, and now works full-time in The Villages, hoping to find a soul mate. 81-year-old man-child Dennis is clearly not the answer. Currently living in an illegal camper van on the grounds he hopes to find a rich widow, a ‘nurse and purse’to see him through his final stretch. The Villages is simple a microcosm of real life but the sun shines nearly every day and the garrulous are never lonely.
Some Kind of Heaven is a stomach-sinking experience, a salutary warning that sunny climes and social clubs are not the answer to most people’s dreams. As Anne puts it, all we really want is someone to cherish and respect us, who listens to our thoughts, and cares.
Oppenheim never ridicules his protagonists despite the modern trend of belittling the elderly. There is beauty here in the souls and faces of these people and it shines through clearly, particularly with Barbara who gives a moving reflection of her childhood, or Anne whose gentle eyes belie her tortured tale. Dennis does eventually find a pleasant companion who inadvertently exposes him as two-faced and shallow without really knowing the truth behind his orange tan.
Some Kind of Heaven is quite simply an unforgettable documentary debut that speaks volumes about the final chapter in the human condition. It shows that even though the flesh is weaker, beauty still shines through in Anne’s sensual disco dancing or Barbara’s poetic take on her complex past. MT