Some Kind of Heaven is a documentary set in The Villages, Florida, which is often described as a ‘Disneyland for retirees’ — it, too, has its own faux-historical town centre — and is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. (Current pop: 130,000.) The vibe is, I would say, cruise ship, but with golf. Hell, in other words, unless, that is, I’m going to be left to rot in a nursing home, in which case: I can learn golf!
This is a film by Lance Oppenheim, who lived in The Villages for several months. It is a fascinatingly weird place and the film is worth seeing if only to get a sense of that. It is self-contained, with its own (uniform) houses plus banks and cinemas and restaurants and churches, and there are more than 3,000 clubs you can join. You could, for instance, become a member of the synchronised-golf cart team (I saw this with my own eyes). But is it the utopia it seems? Or is it a kind of Pleasantville?
Oppenheim doesn’t come at any of this head-on. Instead, it’s explored through the lives of four residents. There is Barbara, a shy widow whose Yorkshire terrier is not similarly shy (he brazenly humps the cat at her feet). There is Anne and Reggie, who have been married for 47 years, and now Reggie seems to be suffering from a mental collapse. He dresses in sheets, chants, believes he’s been reincarnated, takes mind-altering drugs and has boundary issues. ‘I’m going to jack off, so don’t come in here,’ he tells Anne. And also there’s Dennis, an 81-year-old gigolo — his business card reads: ‘celebrity handyman and companion for hire’ — who isn’t a resident. He sleeps in his camper van in the carpark and prowls the site by day in the hopes of meeting a woman ‘who has money but isn’t embarrassing to be seen with’. Ffs, Dennis. One of the take-home messages is, I suppose, that while The Villages is sold as a magical paradise where all your problems will melt away… they don’t.
Oppenheim is only 24, whereas the average age of a villager is 71, which could have been an issue, but he seems genuinely empathetic and curious rather than critical or condescending. It’s up to us to judge whether we’d wish to live in a place that is neither intergenerational nor diverse (I didn’t spot a single non-white face and there are so many white-haired men with white moustaches it’s impossible to tell them apart). There is the occasional existential wail. At one point we join a ‘self-development seminar’ where a woman says: ‘I used to be beautiful but now I’m nothing,’ which hurts. And there’s the loneliness, which can’t be avoided, even when there is golf (50 courses!) and nightly dances in the faux-historical town square. Barbara embarks on a flirtation with a cheesy golf-cart salesman because, you suspect, that’s better than being alone. Reggie’s behaviour isn’t just distressing Anne, it has also isolated her. You will be moved by all their stories, even Dennis’s. When a man has always used women, what happens to him when he runs out of women to use? Actually, no. You will be moved by all the stories apart from Dennis’s, I should have said.
With its 83-minute running time, the film is necessarily superficial — a snapshot rather than a deep dive. Many questions go unanswered. Who is making money from this? What happens to residents when they can no longer look after themselves? Are there (busy) cemeteries? Can you get sex if you want it? (According to what I read later, there’s a ‘Lover’s Lane’ where you can trundle up in your golf cart for a smooch.) Plus there’s no mention of the politics, or the fact that Trump retweeted a video of a resident shouting: ‘White power!’ Perhaps I will just rot in a nursing home after all.