Some Kind of Heaven: Stayputland, by David Bax
In the opening shots of Some Kind of Heaven, Lance Oppenheim’s feature debut, we see a woman perfectly centered in a medium shot in a squarish, 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The next cut turns us around 180 degrees; now we’re behind her but a little further back this time so that we can see the the golf cart drill team she’s conducting rehearsing their choreography. There’s a precision to Oppenheim’s aesthetic and it’s no affectation. He’s adapting to the setting of his documentary, a perfectly manicured retirement community in the middle of Florida and, in doing so, he’s helping to reveal what a lie all the perfect little boxes actually are.
The Villages is home to tens of thousands of retirees and other people 55 years of age or older. Oppenheim narrows his scope down to three storylines, woven together. In one, a couple approaching their 47th wedding anniversary face how much they’ve grown apart. In another, a recent widow who lived in The Villages with her late husband for years contends with the community’s very active dating scene. And in the third, a well-seasoned bachelor who doesn’t actually live in The Villages prowls around looking for single women who do.
Oppenheim makes it clear why so many people chose to retire here. It’s a plastic utopia with chain restaurants, golf courses and swimming pools. There’s plenty to buy and plenty to keep you distracted. It’s exactly the kind of consumerist paradise parodied in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. It even has its own creepy, cultlike adages like, “You come here to live.”
“It’s not the real world,” says Barbara, the widow. And, to some extent, that’s the appeal. But reality finds its way in. While watching Some Kind of Heaven, any time you find yourself thinking, “That’s cute,” you’re soon to be presented with new information and thinking, “Oh, wait, no it’s not.”
Nearly that exact exchange takes place between the married couple. Speaking about a particularly trying event in their lives, Reggie says, “It was a good thing,” to which Anne immediately fires back, “It was not a good thing.” Matter-of-factness like that–common among people of retirement age–makes for good documentary subjects.
But plainspokenness is not the same as simplicity. The Villages tries with all its might to present a simple, carefree life. But people are people and Some Kind of Heaven reminds us that individuality–with all its attendant pain and sadness–will always pop up through the homogeneity like a weed.