Cinemapolis’s “virtual cinema” is currently offering one of the most interesting and surprising documentaries that you’re likely to see
Lance Oppenheim’s “Some Kind of Heaven” (Magnolia-Los Angeles Media Fund-The New York Times-Protozoa, 82 min., 2020) tracks the lives of four residents of The Villages in Florida. The Villages in Florida is the largest retirement community in America. There’s a real Disneyland vibe here that sometimes borders on the “The Stepford Wives.”
Everything is available within this sunny bubble. The Villages has its own rustic town square, stores, bowling alley and sports grounds. There is no end of recreational activities available to its 130,000 occupants: all kinds of dances and sports clubs and acting classes and on and on. But, as one of the people being profiled points out, it’s a bubble that they’re living in: “This is not the real world.”
Oppenheim’s film introduces us to a married couple; she’s into athletics and tennis, and he’s initially portrayed as a kind of goofy hippie. Then there’s a woman who moved to The Villages, can’t afford to go back north, and then her husband dies. She’s still grieving, and we follow her first tentative steps of meeting a new guy — he’s known as “The Margarita King” — and becoming more social. She’s the first person to admit that for her, The Villages is not exactly the Magic Kingdom.
And then there’s an 81-year-old man living in his van on the property. He’s come here to meet an attractive woman with money, and hopefully move in with her (and get out of the van). He cherishes his freedom, but he needs a place to live.
The first few minutes of the film play almost like a paid infomercial for The Villages. Everything is great, this place is magical, and everyone is dancing, prancing and busy. They all seem to have swallowed the Kool-Aid that everything is dandy. And at first, the profiles, aside from the grieving widow, feel very surface. And then, as with all really affecting documentaries, Oppenheim starts delving deeper into these four lives and finds some dark secrets. The hippie guy gets busted for possession of weed and cocaine, and the guy living in his van has fled a DUI charge in California and is a fugitive of the law.
Documentaries like “Some Kind of Heaven” amaze me on a few levels. It’s amazing that filmmakers like Oppenheim realize that a well-to-do retirement theme park would provide such human drama, and it’s always amazing to me that there are people who would let down their barriers and let the world see them at their darkest and most vulnerable moments.
There are a lot of buildings and walls that make up The Villages, and we get to see what’s really behind those walls.?