Thursday, October 28, 2021

Some Kind of Heaven

Barbara Lochiatto

Anne and Reggie Kincer

Dennis Dean


Director Lance Oppenheim

aerial view of The Villages

role-playing on the set

steady increase in home sales























SOME KIND OF HEAVEN         B-                                                                                          USA  (81 mi)  2020  d: Lance Oppenheim

There is a satiric slant to this film about a retirement lifestyle, a kind of perversion of reality, where it’s better to forget the headlines and the lurid advertising campaigns and simply see it for what it is, an exposé on The Villages, America’s largest retirement community in Florida (nearly twice the size of Manhattan), about 55 miles northwest of Orlando, home of Disney World, yet seemingly an extended part of that artificial paradise.  More than anything it’s a state of mind, as there are no residents under the age of 55 living there, a gated community where there are no children, yet there are over 3000 recreational activities and countless classes to keep people active, designed to be a Disneyland for Retirees, an artificially manufactured, utopian version of America that has identical tract housing on large palm tree-lined streets, perfectly manicured lawns, sprinklers galore, with plentiful golf courses, swimming pools, tennis courts, and pickleball courts to keep the residents happy, home to more than 130,000 seniors, most getting around on golf carts, where there’s dancing to live music pretty much every night.  There’s even a fake town square, with tourists hearing all about their fake history on tours, raking in the dough with a completely made-up fabrication, like something concocted in a bar, where the script could easily change daily, yearning for a nostalgic yesteryear that never actually existed.  The pitch is that everything is at your fingertips, so there’s no need to ever leave, as everything you could possibly want is there.  With that being the case, the real feeling you get is like being stuck on a cruise ship and unable to get off, where there’s a Vegas vibe for seniors, group activities galore, just sign up, yet conservatism and conformity are the order of the day, as anyone who doesn’t conform stands out, while 98% of the population is white, a 70% voting block for Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, so you get the idea of who your neighbors are, not exactly open to diversity or open-mindedness, where you might want to keep your ideas to yourself, as most of these residents only pay attention to far-right media, believing everything else is “fake” news.  Yet for some, this is a repudiation of lifelong responsibilities, with no kids, no school tuition payments, just free time for yourself, where every day is just another day in paradise.  What they don’t have is freedom, as the open road beckons, and they’re not on it, content to stay where they are, imprisoned within the safety net of their own grounds, tucked safely behind protective gates, contending all is good.  It’s all in the perception, one supposes, where one person’s heaven is another person’s Hell.  Why go anywhere else if you don’t want to?  But it’s not for everyone, as many would feel suffocated and restricted, as if escaping from the world or living in a bubble.  This is the inverse of Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (2020), people in RV’s criss-crossing the country in search of seasonal part-time jobs as part of the elasticity of the American Dream, stretching it for all its worth, taking their living spaces with them, not wanting to be tied down to a single dwelling and a mortgage, or just one community, following their spirit as they explore the country on their own terms, finding freedom on the road. 

This is the young director’s first feature, a recent graduate of Harvard University’s Visual and Environmental Studies program in 2019 and a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, claiming he first heard about The Villages when he was 12.  “I grew up in South Florida and The Villages are in central Florida.  Any time there was a slow news day my local newspaper would print the most outrageous headlines from The Villages.  When I was in middle school there was a myth about the high rate of STDs and the papers got a real kick out of it, lampooning and judging the residents for their more hedonistic ways of living.”  And there appears to be good reason for that, with many heavily tanned residents dressed in shorts, wearing Hawaiian shirts, where every night is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett. Margaritaville - YouTube (4:12), emulating that breezy, tropical lifestyle, displaying a casual attitude where they don’t seem to have a care in the world, developing a reputation for large-scale black-market Viagra usage.  Pretty much eradicating crime from the vicinity, residents are free to do what they want on any given day or night, with some viewing it as party central, where happiness isn’t hard to find.  According to the most recent Census Report, The Villages is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the entire United States, increasing the population by nearly 40% in the last decade (Census Bureau releases long-awaited data from 2020 survey).  The director has been working with cinematographer David Bolen since he was 17 years of age, where the look of the film matches the controlled, manicured, and hyperreal landscapes of The Villages, yet what distinguishes the film is the everpresent appearance of the elderly, where negativity is frowned upon, as is dwelling upon growing old, instead believing into the hyped mantra that this is a veritable fountain of youth.  No one on crutches or in wheelchairs are seen, no hospital scenes, no doctor visits, where getting sick simply isn’t an option, as it doesn’t happen in this film, yet death isn’t entirely avoided, only mentioned when a longtime partner has passed and the surviving partner now has to pick up the pieces, often seeking a new partner, where as many as 20,000 70- and 80-something singles go clubbing every night, seen swaying to the tunes of A Taste Of Honey - Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978) (3:39) or Sea Cruise Frankie Ford - YouTube (2:47).  We see synchronized swimming set to the soothing music of Neil Sedaka, Neil Sedaka - Laughter in the Rain (1974) – YouTube (2:51), belly-dance classes set to the improbable music of Dean Martin, Dean Martin - Let It Snow (Reprise Records 1966) - YouTube (1:57), a golf cart precision drill team that’s slightly out of kilter, with a miked-up leader yelling instructions to them, elderly cheerleading, all in high-school costumes, acting lessons, or tai chi classes out on the lawns, even choreographed tambourine playing, which honestly doesn’t look like much fun.

Little is said about the history of the place, founded by Harold Schwartz (with his own statue on the grounds), a Michigan travelling salesman during the Depression who built a radio empire, operating without a license by creating mega-stations across the border in Mexico, responsible for hiring radio personality Wolfman Jack.  Starting out as a real estate scam (is it really anything more than that today?), selling tracts of land in what were viewed as the swamplands of Florida (yes, the origin of the joke), sold through embellished fantasy advertising by mail-orders, much like selling timeshares, until that practice was outlawed in 1968.  So they started by selling tracts for mobile homes, where initial efforts at selling homes for retirees proved to be unsuccessful, only selling 400 units by the early 80’s.  Diversifying their product by adding attractive nearby amenities like golf courses, grocery stores, restaurants, and bars, nearly 25,000 new homes were sold in just the first decade of 2000, until now the community has evolved into its own nation-state, becoming a critical base for the Republican Party, most recently in the news for a notorious Trump rally and holding unmasked events at the height of the Covid pandemic.  Never delving into politics or zoning laws, simply leaving the nearly all-white status unchallenged, the film instead hones in on just a few subjects who are highlighted in a rather unflattering light, where it’s hard to fathom why they would allow themselves to be scrutinized by the constant presence of cameras.  Anne and Reggie Kincer have been married for 47-years, but there’s no sign of love or affection, operating as if on different planets, with an anniversary celebrated in separate rooms.  When Reggie, who has relied upon drugs to help him not feel so old, apparently slipping into an unreachable netherworld that may also be described as dementia, gets arrested for drug possession, Anne is mortified, as he fails to understand the seriousness of the ramifications, sending them into marriage counseling with mixed results as they clearly have a different agenda.  Dennis Dean is a heavily tanned 81-year old living out of an illegally parked van, setting his sights on a rich female prospect he can move in with as the answer to all his prayers.  Despite his suave, Palm Springs vibe, discovering swimming pools are his best option to hook up with women, they are on to him, suspecting him right from the start, unmasking him for the pathetic wretch he is, looking more like a loathsome character out of a romance novel, otherwise known as a cad.  The recently widowed Barbara Lochiatto is the youngest and easily the most vulnerable, still profoundly affected by her husband’s loss, she’s the only one who is still working full-time.  Unfortunately using up all her savings, she longs to return back home to Boston, but feels stuck.  Unsure of herself on her own, she’s reticent to get back into the dating game, finding it intimidating and extremely uncomfortable, yet forces herself anyway, which may be the saddest and most heartbreaking aspect of the picture, seen dancing alone on an open-air dance floor surrounded by couples, clearly not enjoying herself, yet what options does she have?  One would think her chances would increase exponentially in a different environment where there are more available men to choose from.  Like Reggie, her options are limited here due to the standard age requirement and the closed-in environment catering only to the elderly, where there’s not a lot of new blood.  The film jumps around a lot, exhibiting a youthful style that might not be in keeping with the subject matter, where despite his best attempts to minimize his overall presence and exert a vérité style, viewers may never come to trust this messenger, capturing a sad portrait of retirement bliss from a few, but missing his overall target, as he’s showcasing The Villages like a spectacle, like a Vegas act, resorting to headlines, never really capturing the underlying spirit of the place. 

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