Review: 'Some Kind of Heaven' explores reality of retirement nirvana

Documentary looks at central Florida's the Villages, the world's largest retirement community, and a handful of its residents

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

It's Florida's friendliest hometown, Disney World for retirees, a place where everyone is happy all the time. 

At least that's what the marketing materials for central Florida's the Villages — the world's largest retirement community, home to some 130,000 residents — would have you believe. The version of the truth that documentary filmmaker Lance Oppenheim finds in his remarkable debut full-length feature "Some Kind of Heaven" is a little less sunny, a little more gritty and a lot more interesting.

Dennis Dean in "Some Kind of Heaven."

Not that "Some Kind of Heaven" is some sort of investigative piece that peels back the seedy underbelly of what's really going on in the Villages. Rather, Oppenheim highlights a handful of residents of the area and gets them to tell their stories, and finds people facing their own personal struggles, just like anyone, anywhere. 

There's Barbara, who's recently widowed, who's struggling with her grief and pushing herself to meet someone new. There's Dennis, who's essentially crashing in his van inside the Villages, hoping to use his old charms to woo a new lady into letting him stay with her for awhile. And there's Anne and Reggie, a couple who've been married for 47 years, who face new challenges as Reggie increasingly turns toward drugs to free his mind and winds up in court facing cocaine possession charges. 

All of that is set against the idyllic backdrop of the massive fairy-tale like bubble community, a self-contained city where residents brag once they arrive, they never have to leave. But that doesn't mean that once they get there they leave their old baggage behind.  

Oppenheim frames his visuals with a still photographer's eye — cinematographer David Bolen captures some stunning images, and they're allowed to linger an extra second or two in the shot, almost to the point of uncomfortable — and shows the beating heart in the Villages behind the sunshine, palm trees and all the women named Elaine. Once you arrive here, you may not want to leave.


'Some Kind of Heaven'


Not rated: adult situations 

Running time: 82 minutes

Available through Cinema Detroit and the Michigan Theater's Virtual Cinema