The end stage of life – retirement – seems like some kind of reward people receive at the end of a hard-working life. And a retirement community like The Villages in Florida exemplifies this philosophy through its existence alone. Although not exactly gated, it is an isolated community where old folks can not only reside, but where they have their own sports venues, entertainment clubs, shopping malls, pharmacies, and even its own jail.
But Some Kind of Heaven exposes how this senior moment of our lives are not the Disneyland fantasy they are advertised to be. It doesn’t seem to be because of The Village itself, but because of how these people continue to have such hardships with relationships, money, and existence itself even during the supposed twilight of their lives.
Director Lance Oppenheim keeps restraint to how he views the octogenarian inhabitants that are the sole focus – but a lot of them seem so unlikable. Reggie is a sometimes drugged-out solipsist who spreads his worries to others, Dennis is a manipulative low-life who pressures his peers through threats of suicide. And Barbara is simply a mopey Debbie Downer. There’s at least Anne, the suffering wife of Reggie, who is clearly grounded and patient, not to mention also divulges on some hard truths of late-stage marriage (“it’s not 50/50, it’s more 80/20”).
Early on, the doco claims that the entire village is stylised to resemble an old-timey aesthetic, so that the rooms, roads, street-signs, lamp-posts, and all the other little things look and feel like the era when these seniors were growing up. And so too has this film resembled an older aesthetic, keeping itself at a steady pace, making the colours prominent and not desaturated, and is also presented in the old-fashioned Academy aspect ratio.
This is certainly a documentary unlike many others that have been released recently. It doesn’t have the same formal flow and arc that its contemporaries do – it presents its setting and characters much more like a fictional film, making the documentary aspect as invisible as possible. There are still plenty of confessionals from these subjects, but this still feels mostly like a film than a documentary.
Some Kind of Heaven may miss out on really being able to round itself off and offer a concrete thesis to emerge. Though a bit scattered, it’s a tremendously and uniquely made documentary that assuredly digs into this particular kind of dissatisfaction, compromise, and multiple ways of living for these old-timers.