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Movie Review: Some Kind of Heaven

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . SOME KIND OF HEAVEN! (February 12, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and viewing link of SOME KIND OF HEAVEN!

Full Review

“When I began my column by screening the Romanian documentary COLLECTIVE back in December, the rental of the film came with a trailer for another documentary that seemed very unique. In the two minute snapshot that most trailers provide, I was definitely drawn to documentary feature debutant Lance Oppenheim’s SOME KIND OF HEAVEN, which follows the lives of four residents living in America’s largest retirement community in The Villages, Florida.

Whether it was the lush color schemes, contrasting personalities of the four people, or intriguing activities, something about this piece screamed unusual to me. After watching, I would amend my thoughts slightly and characterize the picture as both unusual and beautiful.

Before diving into the film, it’s important to know a bit about the four main characters. First, there’s Reggie and Anne, who have been married for 47 years and are experiencing some turbulence due to Reggie’s new behavior and experimentation with drugs, which he has found enjoyable given the lax vibe of The Villages and his own focus on meditation. Next, we meet Barbara, a recently widowed woman from Boston who sought her own heaven by moving to The Villages over a decade ago and has found it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Lastly, there’s Dennis, a sort of beatnik ladies man who has traveled cross country in his old school van from California to start afresh and find love and paradise at age 81.

From that brief synopsis, you’re probably wondering how the heck this piece has any sort of plot. The fact is, it really doesn’t. Instead, it tracks the four residents through a series of vignettes, laced with a mix of emotions, each focused on the common themes of seeking paradise and finding comfort amidst feeling lost at the same time.

A common part of the narrative among these four is definitely the idea that, even in this enormous community of 130,000 where this is so much offered, one can still find deep loneliness. From an outsider’s perspective, The Villages certainly presents as the mecca of retirement communities. As the documentary depicts, it offers so much in the form of daily needs that one could realistically never leave. This is why it becomes so ironic that Reggie, Anne, Barbara, and Dennis all face such opposite emotions in the long run.

While filmmaker Oppenheim depicts plenty of residents who are having the time of their life in The Villages, the focus on the four main residents left me wondering if there really are a lot of people who get lost among the shuffle or who grow tired of the repetitive nature of the community, even though there is so much you can do. The fact that the feeling went through my mind as someone in my late twenties whose own thoughts of retirement are so far away indicates a deeply introspective look by the filmmaker that can resonate with any viewer.

It’s worth noting that the filmmaker himself is only 25 and completed this project as a part of his thesis at Harvard, where he studied Visual and Environmental Studies. Having focused a lot on the vignette-like plot and characterization, it’s also worth focusing on the film’s own visual atmosphere and the environment in which its residents live.

The lush colors of the palm trees, deeply blue swimming pools, and Floridian architecture all contribute to understanding the vibe of life at The Villages, exactly what you’d picture of a retirement community in Florida. Additionally, Oppenheim’s auteur approach to filming this piece shows the full control that he’s taken, seen in the intentionality of every shot and sequence. Simply put, each vignette is built with a great deal of purpose, even amidst a non-linear plot. He captures the environment beautifully and allows those watching from the outside in to experience the ups and downs of living in a secluded community.

My one complaint about the film is noteworthy enough that it admittedly does distract from fully enjoying the piece. Though Oppenheim packs a lot into the 81 minute running time and achieves a proficient level of mastery that makes you really question if he is a novice to full length documentaries, there is a lack of background development in the four main characters that is obviously missing.

While we get to know Reggie, Anne, Barbara, and Dennis quite well, there are some missing pieces to their backstory, as well as their initial time at The Villages that would have benefited the film’s overall focus tremendously. I am left wondering a lot about how they ended up where they are, why they feel the way they do, and more about their relationships.

Even still, the film, which is available in Red River’s Virtual Cinema through the Eventive app, creates a beautiful tale of interwoven stories that you otherwise would never have known had the filmmaker chosen not to examine the idea of retirement paradises and how they really feel to those living in them.


Stay tuned for Volume VI, which will reveal my thoughts on TWO OF US, France’s official submission for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes, which will take place virtually on February 28.”

Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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