Some Kind of Heaven


Life in The Villages has a surreal quality to it.

(2020) Documentary (Magnolia) Reggie Kincer, Dennis Dean, Gary Schwartz, Lynn Henry, Anne Kincer.  Directed by Lance Oppenheim

 

Residents of Central Florida, as I am, know about The Villages. The world’s largest gated retirement community, it is the subject of endless jokes and speculation. Known for it’s Disney-esque architecture (including faux Mission-style bridges and shopping-centers complete with fully invented historical backstories) – it wouldn’t surprise me if Disney itself took its cues for its own housing development in Celebration from The Villages, which was built about ten years earlier – and solidly Republican politics, not to mention a fleet of personalized golf carts that even residents who don’t play golf get around town in.

There is also a Disney-esque aura of positivism in The Villages; they have their own television news and newspaper, often devoting their energies to more fluffy news stories (residents can always turn to Fox News for their political news, which many do) and more than one resident describes living in The Villages as living in a bubble.

But while local filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s documentary hints at the environment of the retirement community, he really doesn’t explore it deeply. Instead, he chooses to tell the story of several of its residents (and one conspicuous non-resident) with almost a set of blinders on to the fact that those living there seem to want to live out their golden years in a monocultural fantasyland that has more in common with the Magic Kingdom than with real life, although as it always does, real life intrudes.

We meet Reggie, an 81-year-old man who has been married for 47 years to Anne. She socializes while he keeps to himself. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that despite Reggie’s odd yoga-like exercise regimen, he seems dedicated to losing himself in a recreational drug haze – mainly cannabis, but also harder drugs. At first Anne puts up with her husband’s eccentricities but as they lead to legitimate legal issues, her patience wanes.

Barbara is a Boston native who moved down to Florida to retire with her husband, who then passed away. Forced to return to work because of money issues, she has lost a lot of the joy of life that animated her when she first moved to The Villages, but her first tentative steps into dating a handsome and kind golf cart salesman seem to be restoring her smile.

Finally, there’s Dennis whom Da Queen nicknamed “The Shark.” A ne’er-do-well from California living out of his van, the octogenarian is eager to land a good-looking widow with money as he trolls the churches and bars, but finds better luck at the pools. He is blissfully ignorant of the adage that when God wants to punish you, He gives you what you wish for.

Oppenheim seems to have watched a good deal of the works of documentarian Errol Morris – the style is unmistakable. There are scenes of golf cart precision drill teams, synchronized swimming, and spotless shopping centers that have fake cracks in the fake adobe walls. It all seems so surreal, but then we get the pathos in the three stories that highlight the issues that still occur despite the best efforts to turn the golden years into a kind of paradise of yesteryear. Local critic Roger Moore likens The Villages to The Village in the British science fiction spy drama The Prisoner and that pretty much sums up the attitudes of Central Floridians to the development.

I have to admit that the movie isn’t what I hoped it would be, nor what it could have been. That’s not really the fault of the filmmaker for not making the movie we wanted him to make; as much as I would have appreciated a deep dive into the reality of The Villages, that film remains to be made. This is a movie about four individuals who find their twilight years as challenging as all those that led up to them, which isn’t necessarily the message most of us want to hear.

REASONS TO SEE: A very Errol Morris-esque vibe. Some of the segments are pretty deranged. A different look at the aged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not so much about The Villages as some of the people who live there.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug use and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is one of the Executive Producers; the New York Times was a partner in the making of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews, Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gates of Heaven
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
NEXT:
The Reason I Jump

2013 Florida Film Festival


Florida Film Festival 2013Although there are a few more films yet to be screened as I write this, at last for me the Florida Film Festival has come to an end for another year and in all honesty I have to admit that this one from my standpoint was the most successful one yet. Although I have enjoyed every one I’ve been to thus far, at this one I had more fun, met more new friends and saw more great movies than ever. There were several that took me by surprise (i.e. I Declare War, Magical Universe both of which have reviews pending) as well as a few that were as good as any films we’ve seen at the festival (Forgotten Kingdom, This is Where We Live).

We got to meet Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and who is appearing in Free Samples and at 83 years old she’s as beautiful and alluring as women half her age, as well as Cary Elwes, star of The Princess Bride who was as gracious and as charming as any star I’ve met. I also got to hobnob with indie filmmakers ranging from Oscar winner Bill Plympton to newcomers Marc Menchaca, Jeremy Workman and Joe York. All of them have terrific careers ahead of them.

So it is with some bittersweet feelings that I write this closing piece on the Festival. Work will begin shortly on the 23rd FFF for 2014. Still, as the army of volunteers heads home and the staffers at the Enzian take down the decorations, the tents, the tables and the posters, those of us who attended can applaud the hard work of all those who put the Festival together and kept it running smoothly. Special thanks to Enzian press relations queen Jennifer Guhl, box office manager Adam Kelley, program director Matthew Curtis, Enzian president Henry Maldonado, projectionist and general tech guy Joshua Martin, and the box officers, servers, bartenders, ticket takers and line managers that kept a smile on their face and a can-do attitude despite near universal exhaustion on all their parts. I’d like to particularly single out Adam Smith, Danielle Best, Will Reddy, Mark Yancey, Christina Lucero and Anna Wallace for making my experience even better through their unfailing good humor, willingness to assist an occasionally grumpy press guy and to do that hoodoo that they do so well.

I honestly hope you made it to this year’s festival. If not, do make plans to go next year. I know it’s a bit of a gamble going to movies you know nothing about, but the producers of the Festival take a lot of the worry out of it – the movies they pick for the festival are really, really good and there were so many of them that I couldn’t fit them all in during the run of the festival so for the next few weeks you’ll be seeing more festival film reviews even though the actual festival is over – and those I didn’t see will still proudly bear the Festival logo when I do get around to seeing and reviewing them.

So once again a very heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved with the 2013 Florida film festival, and congratulations are due all of them for an extraordinary job well done. Believe me, every sleepless night, every tired and aching muscle, every minor panic attack was worth it for all the joy you brought to the festival goers and the exceptional reflection you all were on Central Florida. I’ll be seeing you at the next one.