In the mid-1970s, a Michigan property developer called Harold Schwartz set up a retirement community in Florida, where he owned tracts of land. The initial settlement attracted around 800 people. Today, The Villages, or ‘TV’ as it is known to residents, is home to over 130,000 largely white, largely Trump-supporting OAPs, drawn by the old-timey twinkle of the resort, which was designed to evoke the sleepy towns of the fifties. ‘There’s no place like this,’ grins one blissed-out resident in Lance Oppenheim’s watchable documentary. ‘This is Nirvana!’
The film focuses on four residents in particular, the most interesting of which are Anne and Reggie, who have been married for 47 years but are falling gently apart. Anne is a neat, attentive, emotionally intelligent creature of the suburbs – Theresa May-esque in her way – while her bloke is craggier, wilder and more self-absorbed. Lately Reggie has got into tai chi and likes to spend his time ‘jacking off’, as he calls it, or blitzing his brain with narcotics. When he is caught in possession of cocaine and marijuana, the future of his and Anne’s marriage is thrown into question; proof that even in the Elysian dreamscape of The Villages, where travel is by golf-buggy and children are verboten, heaven can tilt into hell.
Also under Oppenheim’s spotlight is Dennis, an 81-year-old chancer with nutty skin and a penchant for Hawaiian shirts. He doesn’t own a home in The Villages but prowls around the gated community in his van, looking for ladies. He wants, he admits charmlessly, a woman of means that he wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen with; once he worked for celebrities and presidents but now he’d prefer to sponge off whatever gullible lady will have him. His mission to bag a silver sugarmommy makes for compelling viewing.
Fortunately Dennis fails to make a beeline for Barbara, an eyeshadowy Bostonian who moved to The Villages after the death of her husband. ‘It hasn’t been the fantasy land I imagined,’ she acknowledges mournfully. While there are tens of thousands of singletons in the Villages – and streams of dances, societies, club nights and cocktail parties to attend – Barbara seems marooned in a creaking Disneyland, unable to quite buy into the plasticky myth of the resort. She’s not the only one perturbed to find herself in a marked-down Truman Show: ‘We live in a bubble,’ Anne concurs at one point. ‘It’s not the real world’.
The documentary is well made, if on the gimmicky side: I could have done without the hiply squared 1:33 frame, and scenes have a familiar, oversaturated Instagram aesthetic. But Oppenheim’s gentle, open-minded approach to his subjects makes up for the film’s shortcomings. And in the end the documentary serves as a spirited and memorable reminder that old age needn’t be spent clicking knitting needles.
Some Kind of Heaven is released on 14 May on digital platforms.
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