Some Kind of Heaven

Disneyland for Retirees

By Syeda Maham Rasheed | February 2021


Directed by the 24-year-old Lance Oppenheim, ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ is a relatively new documentary about life in a massive Florida-based retirement community where those who can afford it spend their senior years living the life of luxury as if they are on vacation every day. The Villages is a problem-free world for financially comfortable over-55 residents who want to live their life to the fullest.

The documentary provides basic information about the community and also gives a sense of what it is like to live there as the lifestyle at The Villages is quite active with over 3000 group activities including water aerobics, bowling, swimming, belly dancing, films, Tae Kwon Do classes, marching band, meetings and the Golf Cart Precision Drill Team. There are grocery stores, malls, restaurants, and bars and nightclubs where over 20,000 people in the 70s and 80s go clubbing every night. Everything is available at a short distance so nobody needs a car and the golf-cart ride suits them. In short, people come here to find a community and possibly companionship.

Currently, The Villages has over 157,000 senior citizens and functions on its own. It started as a mobile-home park in the 1970s that later developed into an ever-expanding set of properties, giving seniors a luxurious and resort-style experience. Known as the ‘Disneyland for Retirees’, its founder Howard S. Schwartz hired a company to design a mid-20th century town square where people of a certain age could sip from a fountain of youth.

While Oppenheim provides insights into the lives of residents, he also narrates that the lives of these seniors is filled with many of the same uncertainties, conflicts, loneliness and fears as of all other ages.

When Bostonian Barbara came from Massachusetts to The Villages with her husband, she was very ecstatic about living a comfortable life, free from all worries of the outside world. But sadly her husband died, leaving her depressed and alone with no funds to continue living in the community. Luckily, she found a full-time administrative job at a rehab center and her position at The Villages improved. Things brightened when she met an eligible bachelor but it seemed that while she may have been eager for the stability of commitment, he was not.

Out of the many singles, Dennis Dean is given much attention. He was an operator back in California but, now at the age of 81, he just wants to party. With a playboy attitude, he is reluctant to meet a wealthy woman who can provide him shelter, comfort him in his late years and allow him to indulge in a life of endless poolside cocktails. He currently lives in his van and flirts with passersby, flatly admitting his desires. Dennis seems to be a person who never bothers planning for the future and now he has none.

Then comes the couple Anne and Reggie who are married for 47 years. Being athletically inclined, Anne spends her days on the pickleball court or doing some other athletic group activity. Reggie is a bit more solitary and fills his solo hours by making up for lost time in the hallucinogens-taking department. Things take a turn when he begins experimenting with illegal recreational drugs, resulting in serious consequences. He further illustrates how the place is essentially a haven for the healthy and certainly not ideal for anyone with escalating issues of mental illness.

Cinematographer David Bolen beautifully frames the eye-catching compositions of the everyday realities of a town built to evoke comforting memories of senior years. The lively and colourful production is pleasing yet the approach of the film appears a bit forced. It seems as if the carefree environment for many of the residents, is a kind of performance, a role-playing of the very concept of final years spent enjoying.

Though Oppenheim tries to show how senior years can be positive and fun, the film comes out as a big lie of life becoming simpler and more satisfying as you grow older. The film should instead focus on happiness that can be found anywhere in the world, no matter the place is a resort setup or not.