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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Some Kind of Heaven (2021)

Florida’s retiree population is huge. In a 2018 census, an estimated 4.9 million people are retirees, and in The Villages, America’s largest retirement community, there are around 80 000 people living there, making it one of the fastest-growing populations in the state. Referred to as the “Disneyland for retirees”, The Villages proclaims to be just that, a place for people to return to the nostalgia of their youth and explore themselves even further during the twilight years of their life. “You don’t come here to pass away, you come here to live” says a proud resident, but for some residents, it isn’t that simple.

Anne and Reggie are married. According to Anne, Reggie never used to be so interesting, and it is at The Villages where Reggie began to truly explore himself and his spirituality. Drugs, golf cart joy rides, manic and almost possessed-like meditations are preparations for ending his life “with a smile on his face”. This is all well and good for Reggie, but his wildly unpredictable nature pushes Anne further and further away from him, struggling to keep up with his wild new rebirth and the need to want to escape from the bubble that the residents of The Villages find themselves perfectly content with. This exhausting game of keeping up with Reggie has Anne doubting if she really is retired or just taking up a whole new responsibility in looking after Reggie. Reggie in particular is bound to be one of the most interesting subjects in a documentary for 2021, and seeing the highs and lows between them prove to be some of the most compelling stories of the year so far.

Barbara is a widow. She came to The Villages with her husband from Massachusetts with the excitement of starting over, but shortly after arrival, her husband passed away. Trapped in her grief, Barbara struggles to move on and integrate herself fully into the community.

Finally, there is Dennis. He is single and came to The Villages in pursuit of finding a woman who has money, is good looking and is someone who he won’t be embarrassed to be seen with. Officially not a resident, Dennis is living a Nomad-like life, forced to live in parking lots out of his van in hopes of finding some kind of respite - his own nirvana in a place promising it.

Gorgeously shot by David Bolen with dream-like surrealism, 24-year old documentarian Lance Oppenheim observes and most importantly, listens to his subjects with keen interest. The dreamy visuals as well as Ari Balouzian's Jon Brion-esque score perfectly compliment the claim that this is nirvana for retirees, it really does seem to be some kind of heaven – too good to be true. We mostly follow four individuals who came to The Villages to live this exciting new chapter in their lives, a sort of final frontier to fulfilling their own American Dream.

Oppenheim’s insistence on remaining intimate with his subjects shows an obvious love and adoration for them. Some Kind of Heaven reminds me a lot of Errol Morris’ work (especially his earlier work), creating a strong cinematic and narrative style not often found in most documentaries which opt for a realistic cinéma vérité approach. The disappointment, sadness, and quiet resentment towards The Villages from our main subjects are intercut with happy residents, waxing poetic about the Disney World for retirees. This smart use of editing creates a deeper sense of hope for our main subjects, even though it can’t all be sunshine and rainbows in this very isolated community. We want, no, we need them to achieve this level of unadulterated bliss.

Some Kind of Heaven is a wonderfully precise film that admires and only wants the best for its subjects. Lance Oppenheim’s concise eye for cinematic storytelling through the documentary format is unique and refreshing, forming a sort of spiritual successor to veteran documentarian Errol Morris. Oppenheim has placed himself firmly on the path to becoming a truly world-class filmmaker, and with Some Kind of Heaven, he has produced one of the first great films of 2021.

Some Kind of Heaven is available to rent on most VOD platforms right now in the US.

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