Some years ago, a couple I know moved to one of those gated retirement communities in Florida where everyone whizzes around in custom golf carts and there’s some kind of activity seemingly every waking moment, from pool calisthenics to Bingo to dance classes to martial arts to an “evening” happy hour that kicks off at 4 p.m., featuring cocktails with wacky names and singalongs of old standards by the piano.
After a half decade, they moved back to Chicago, winters and all, with the explanation that for all the planned gaiety, everyone eventually winds up talking about their latest operation and counting the weeks until the next visit from the grandchildren.
In the fascinating and largely upbeat but occasionally melancholy documentary “Some Kind of Heaven,” we’re taken inside the retirement bubble world of The Villages, a community that almost DARES you to sit around talking about your latest operation. This is an almost unsettlingly peaceful, self-contained and expansive retirement community in north central Florida with a population of 130,000, with a median age of 68 (some 30 years older than the average American). The brainchild of Michigan businessman Harold Schwartz, who started selling land tracts in the 1960s, the neighborhoods in the Villages look like movie-set versions of idyllic American life, complete with comfortable, cookie-cutter houses and squeaky-clean town squares featuring restaurants and businesses and shops and other attractions, many with fake histories.
Director Lance Oppenheim (who at 24 is a good half-century younger than his subjects) employs a straightforward, deadpan style that suits the material well, avoiding condescension or cutesy gimmicks as he introduces us to a number of residents of the Villages, including Barbara, a widow who has been living and working there for a dozen years but is having no luck in the dating department and longs to return to her hometown of Boston, but can’t afford to do so; Dennis, a drifter and perhaps a grifter with a movie-star tan who doesn’t have a home in the Villages and lives in his van, literally prowling the neighborhoods for a willing and gullible gal with money who will take him in, and Anne and Reggie, who have been together for 47 years but are experiencing serious marital trauma due to Reggie’s increasingly eccentric behavior and his heavy and dangerous use of some seriously mind-altering drugs.
Not exactly the stuff of advertising brochures. Even though we see numerous scenes of seniors zipping about in those golf carts, gulping fruity alcoholic drinks and dancing on Town Square patios under the stars, enjoying the pools and the tennis courts and the endless stream of activities, the close-up views of the lives of Barbara and Dennis and Anne and Reggie serve as reminders that no matter how much you try to seal yourself off from the real world in your winter years, you can’t escape the sometimes-shattering realities of life.
There’s a scene where Barbara seems to make a connection with a dashing, good-time Charlie of a gentleman — and then we cut to the gentleman dirty dancing with a flashy gal whose appearance looks … augmented, and Barbara looks like a high school girl who sees her boyfriend dancing with someone else at Homecoming.
Even in the manufactured happy atmosphere of the Villages, you’re not immune to heartbreaks big and small.