January 26, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Lance Oppenheim
Culture Representation: Taking place in the retirement community of The Villages, Florida, the documentary “Some Kind of Heaven” features an all-white group of mostly senior citizens who live in The Villages, with a few people of color shown who are non-residential employees.
Culture Clash: Some of the people in the documentary aren’t entirely comfortable with the self-contained “bubble” lifestyle of being in this retirement community.
Culture Audience: “Some Kind of Heaven” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing how people in a Florida retirement community live, but don’t expect to see any real diversity in this community.
The first few scenes of “Some Kind of Heaven” almost look like an infomercial for The Villages, Florida—the retirement community that is the subject of this documentary. Residents gush about how close to perfect their life is in The Villages, which had a population of about 120,000 to 130,000 people in the 2010s decade, according to various statistics. This movie was filmed from 2018 to 2019. But as the documentary goes on to focus on four people in particular, it’s revealed that things aren’t quite so rosy as they first seem to be at The Villages.
“Some Kind of Heaven” is the first feature film from director Lance Oppenheim, who mixes whimsical travelogue-type shots that look like idyllic recreational group activities for senior citizens and contrasts these scenes with the harsh realities of what some of these residents are dealing with in their private lives. The four people who get the spotlight are:
- Anne Kincer and Reggie Kincer, a married couple who celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary during the filming of this documentary.
- Barbara Lochiatto, a widow whose husband Paul had died about four months before she was filmed for the documentary.
- Dennis Dean, a homeless bachelor who was living out of his van and illegally squatting at The Villages.
The Villages, located in central Florida’s Sumter County, was co-founded in the 1970s as a development for mobile homes. However, business was slow and didn’t flourish until Harold Schwartz and his son Harold G. Morse (who took his stepfather’s last name) began developing The Villages as a middle-class retirement community in 1983. Schwartz and Morse wanted The Villages to be self-contained and marketed as a “Disney World of retirement communities.” There are no amusement park rides in The Villages, but there are numerous activities that are typical of what’s offered on cruise ships.
The documentary includes archival footage of Morse (who died in 2014) explaining that the idea was to make The Villages a place so full of activities and conveniences, that residents would feel like they didn’t have to leave The Villages borders for anything else. It’s technically not a gated community, but it has security people who patrol the area, to give it an “exclusive” and “protected” ambience. Morse also mentions that the retro architecture and landscaping of The Villages were made to remind retirees of the places where they grew up.
And apparently, that includes reminders of a racially segregated America, since there are almost no people of color who seem to live in The Villages, based on what’s shown in the documentary. The few people of color who are featured in the documentary are those who work in this retirement community, but don’t live there and certainly aren’t shown in the myriad of residential group activities (such as dancing, swimming or playing golf) that get considerable screen time in the documentary.
As an example of how people of color are mostly relegated to submissive “servant” roles that are meant to comfort the residents, there’s a scene where Lochiatto gets her nails done at a salon, and an Asian female manicurist gives Lochiatto some sympathetic advice on being a widow. The manicurist says that she was a widow and is now remarried. The documentary shows that the people in The Villages don’t seem to care about having racial diversity in their community, since they never talk about it, and they readily admit that they like to live in this community “bubble” that has been manufactured for them. What they don’t say in the film is this reality: People tend to move to areas where they feel welcome, which is why some communities are racially diverse and others are not.
It should come as no surprise that The Villages is most definitely a community that believes in the “Make America Great Again” political slogan originally made famous by Ronald Reagan and later used by Donald Trump. It’s a known fact that most of The Villages residents are conservative-leaning Republicans. However, “Some Kind of Heaven” goes out of its way to erase this big part of The Villages’ identity. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t want to alienate potential viewers of this documentary by even mentioning that The Villages is a hub of conservative political activity.
In the production notes for “Some Kind of Heaven,” director Oppenheim explains: “I saw an opportunity to tell a story that went beyond partisan politics and spoke to something that I found more existentially interesting and unsettlingly relatable: the absurd lengths that many Americans go to—especially those nearing the end of their lives—to live inside of a fantasy. The Villages—by design—offers a decidedly conservative vision of the American Dream, and my goal in making this film was to inhabit that fantasy and call it into question. By documenting the experiences of those who didn’t fit into the community’s advertised way-of-life, I was able to explore something more honest, open and universal about how the human struggle—no matter how much you try to evade it—continues throughout the rest of life.”
Despite the questionable decision to exclude any mention of The Villages’ identity as a mostly conservative Republican community, “Some Kind of Heaven” is more entertaining than not, even if several scenes look staged. The dialogues often look semi-rehearsed. That’s not to say that people in the documentary had lines of dialogue fed to them. But “Some Kind of Heaven” is the type of documentary where you get the impression that the people being filmed were asked to repeat their words and actions, so that the filmmakers could choose the best versions for the movie.
The film’s editing is at times haphazard and random. One minute, the documentary is showing viewers a roomful of women who all say, one by one, “Hi, my name is Elaine,” as they all wear “Elaine” name tags. The next minute, something else is shown, and these women are never seen in the documentary again. There’s no explanation of who these Elaines really are and what kind of group discussions or activities they have. The documentary has scattershot, brief introductions to other groups of people, who are then also never seen again.
The beginning of the movie features a montage of The Villages residents giving various praise about their community. There are comments such as, “Everything is so positive,” “This is nirvana,” and “When you live here, you kind of become younger.” People are shown in various polished and playful settings, looking as if they’re always in the middle of a dream vacation. Throughout the film, there’s some impressive work from cinematographer David Bolen, who sets up some very scenic, colorful and eye-catching shots.
Anne Kincer says, “When you move here, it’s kind of like going to college.” Dean observes, “Where else can you party seven days a week? It’s a great place.” Lochiatto explains why she moved with her husband Paul from Massachusetts to this Florida retirement community: “The Villages seemed like a magical, beautiful place. I decided that I would sell my house, and we decided that we would move down here and start fresh.”
But slowly, the cracks of discontent begin to show with the documentary’s four main subjects. The passion has dwindled in Anne and Reggie Kincer’s marriage, and they mention that they feel more like “roommates” than a married couple. To make matters worse, Reggie (who says he feels like a misfit in The Villages) has become hooked on illegal drugs in his quest for “spiritual enlightenment.” He’s shown smoking what looks like hashish, and he admits that he also regularly indulges in marijuana. And later in the documentary, he has to go to court after being arrested for possession of marijuana and cocaine. (His arrest is not shown in the documentary.)
Dean, who says he was 81 years old when this documentary was made, is a self-admitted hustler. He somewhat brags that the only reason why he’s hanging out at The Villages is so he can find an attractive, financially generous woman whom he can date, with the hope that she will financially support him and let him move in with her. Dean hasn’t had much luck in finding a “sugar mama” by going to the community’s nightclubs and churches, but he says he’s been having better luck at the community’s main public swimming pool. The documentary shows him making moves on a few women, who see right through his act and don’t fall for his pickup lines.
Lochiatto’s storyline is the least interesting of the documentary’s four main subjects, simply because her situation of being a lonely widow isn’t that unusual in a retirement community. Lochiatto, who often looks sad and rarely has a genuine smile, gripes that she wishes she could go back to Massachusetts, but she can’t afford to do that because all of her savings are gone. She also seems self-conscious about still having to work full-time (she answers phones in an office job), compared to most of The Villages residents who are comfortably retired.
Later in the documentary, Lochiatto shows more of a personality when she takes a group acting class and gives an impressive dramatic monologue. She also has a mild flirtation with a golf cart salesman named Lynn Henry, who tells her up front that he’s “playing the field” by dating more than one woman. However, it’s clear that Lochiatto is starting to develop a crush on him, based on how she finally starts to smile and appear more light-hearted after meeting him.
Henry is a big fan of singer Jimmy Buffett (whose fans are nicknamed Parrotheads), so he invites Lochiatto to a Parrothead outdoor party. However, Lochiatto pouts and looks hurt when Henry spends time dancing with a pretty blonde at the party. It’s as if the documentary wants to show that even in old age, someone can still feel like an awkward teenager when it comes to dating.
The drug addiction drama with the Kincers isn’t as explosive as it could have been, mainly because Anne is a stoic, non-confrontational spouse who prefers to be in denial about the problem for too long. Reggie is the type of person who believes that his spiritual health should involve doing a lot of tai chi and doing a lot of mind-bending drugs. Even when Reggie is clearly hallucinating and seeming to lose touch with reality—at one point, Reggie says that he’s died and has been reincarnated as God—Anne still doesn’t really want to deal with it.
Anne comments with a weary tone on Reggie’s escalating drug addiction and its damage to his mental health: “I don’t understand it and I don’t like it, because I think it’s a dependency on something that just is not good for you. But I can respect what he found and what he’s looking for.”
Anne eventually admits that she thought about leaving Reggie, but she decided against it because she believes in her wedding vows to stay married in sickness and in health. Reggie’s arrest seems to have shocked her out of denial about how bad his drug problem is and how it could have long-lasting, negative effects on both of their lives. Reggie decides to be his own attorney in the court proceedings, and this decision leads to unintentionally embarrassing results for him. The documentary uses the courtroom’s closed-circuit camera footage to show what happened.
In court, Reggie talks too much and talks out of turn, prompting the judge to remark in open court that Reggie is the rudest person he’s even dealt with in court—even ruder than rapists and murderers. Reggie then tries giving smarmy compliments to the judge, which doesn’t work. Reggie then tries to appeal to the judge’s sympathy by claiming he has health issues, such as getting a recent MRI and experiencing mini-strokes. The judge’s decision in this court case is not a surprise, considering that there’s an obvious racial difference in the U.S. criminal justice system when it comes to punishment for drug possession and other crimes. If Reggie had been a person of color, his punishment most likely would’ve been very different.
The documentary shows that Dean, whose background is very vague, also has a criminal record, and he moved to Florida to avoid something from his past. He’s obviously a skilled liar/con artist, so whatever he says about himself is questionable. The filmmakers definitely were not concerned with fact-checking anything he said. It’s pretty obvious that Dean was chosen to be in this movie only to liven up the film, because a lonely widow and two emotionally conflicted elderly spouses look kind of boring in comparison.
While Dean illegally squats on The Villages property, there are hints that the community’s security people and some other residents know that Dean is homeless and shouldn’t be there, but no one bothers to kick him out. Dean outright denies that he’s homeless when certain people tell him that they know he’s living out of his van. Dean also shows an anonymous note that was left on his van that said, “I know that you don’t live here. If you want to avoid trouble, don’t come back.”
However, Dean doesn’t take this note seriously and he continues his hustling games. How does he get money? He says he has a background in handyman work, so he does occasional handyman odd jobs. For food, he often gets free food at churches and at places that serve buffet meals. And he takes showers in his swim trunks in the swimming pool areas that have public showers. He deals with other hygiene issues (such as brushing his teeth and shaving) in public bathrooms.
Dean’s low point in the movie comes when he completely runs out of money, and there’s a montage of him making desperate phone calls to people he knows and asking to borrow money from them. After a series of rejections, he starts dropping hints to the people he calls that if he doesn’t get the money he needs, he’ll kill himself. It’s quite the display of emotional manipulation.
Finally, an ex-girlfriend of his named Nancy Davis comes to Dean’s rescue (what she does won’t be revealed in this review), but even that’s not enough to satisfy him. During his “I’ve run out of money” point in the movie, Dean comments on his life: “I said from the get-go that I would live fast, love hard, and die poor. I’m right there now. I’m poor.”
Although Dean is the most memorable person in the documentary, he’s also the most mysterious. Any background information about Dean is only told by him, and even that information is dubious because he seems to be a pathological liar. He vaguely mentions a past marriage and a string of bad relationships with women. He doesn’t mention having any living relatives, except for his mother.
And it’s clear that he doesn’t go to church for religious reasons but to see how he can get money or favors from people he meets in church. Dean has a private counseling session with one of the church ministers named Rev. Norman Lee Schaffer. This scene is almost comical because it’s obvious that Dean doesn’t care at all about religion or spiritual beliefs but wants some kind of handout.
Rev. Schaffer is a middle-aged man who mentions that he had a wild past as a touring musician. But at around the age of 40, Rev. Schaffer says he changed his ways because he didn’t want to end up having the kind of life that Dean has. After they pray together, Dean seems disappointed that the reverend didn’t give him any money, food or other donations. And so, Dean continues trying to hustle women.
One of the odd things about this documentary is that there’s no mention of Dean, Lochiatto and the Kincers having any children or grandchildren, nor are they visited by any relatives. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to convey a sense that The Villages is a place that “disconnects” people from the real world. But this family omission also makes the people in this documentary less relatable, almost like they’re playing a part in a movie, instead of truly letting a documentary crew show all aspects of their lives.
Surprisingly, the homeless and rootless Dean is the documentary’s only featured person who’s shown having a connection, albeit a brief one, to a family member who lives outside of The Villages. There’s a short scene of Dean talking to his mother on the phone and lying to her about being employed and saying that his life is going very well. Dean’s mother must’ve given birth to him when she was very young, because Dean says more than once in the movie that he’s 81. But given all the lies he tells in the movie, who really knows if that’s true?
“Some Kind of Heaven” has enough moments where people will be curious to see what happens and how the movie is going to end. That curiosity will keep viewers engaged, but this documentary has a tendency to treat people more like plot devices and photo ops instead of as well-rounded human beings. The Villages retirement community might want to be a bubble removed from reality, but “Some Kind of Heaven” ultimately made a very safe and passably entertaining attempt to burst that bubble.
Magnolia Pictures released “Some Kind of Heaven” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 15, 2021.