The Morning Call (Sunday)
Sex, drugs & pickleball
What a 24-year-old filmmaker learned about growing old
In the new film “Some Kind of Heaven,” there is a drug scandal, nonstop parties, gallons of cocktails and a scheming Don Juan who would be right at home in the comedy “Old School.” But this is not some college-age romp cleverly scripted for the young and the restless — in fact, there’s no script at all. “Some Kind of Heaven” is a documentary, a personal examination of four lives playing out among the old and the restless at the Villages, a retirement community northwest of Orlando, Florida.
The filmmaker who turned the Villages into a latter-day “Truman Show” is Florida native Lance Oppenheim, who was 22 when he embarked on an 18-month project that upended his preconceptions about aging and maturing — not necessarily the same thing.
“Growing old is certainly a gift,” Oppenheim says. “When the film premiered at Sundance (Film Festival), on my birthday, there was the news that Kobe Bryant had just died. I was, like, I know it sounds trite, but you really don’t know how much time you have on this planet.”
The premise of the packaged paradise of the Villages, he discovered, is based on the idea that the passage of time doesn’t necessarily make a person wiser or less interested in finding a party and a companion.
“There’s something kind of beautiful, tragic and interesting about that idea. Especially when you’re in a world like the Villages, seeing people kind of attempt to return to their college days,” Oppenheim says. “I think this is part of the reason why folks trusted me with their stories, as a lot of people there are trying to return to the age I was when I was making this
A Magnolia Pictures release,
“Some Kind of
Heaven” opens in theaters nationwide
Jan. 15. The
83-minute film counts among its producers acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and The New York Times, which has screened several of Oppenheim’s short documentaries.
As a documentary filmmaker, Oppenheim, 24, is drawn to personal stories of the displaced, the exiled, the unmoored.
His first film, “The Dogmatic,” was a short documentary shot when he was 14 that profiled the controversial rescue efforts of
100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida.
More recently he has made documentary shorts on an improvised village of airline workers living in an airport parking lot in Los Angeles (“Long-Term Parking”) and a man who has been living on a cruise ship for nearly two decades (“The Happiest Man in the World”).
Over the years, Oppenheim had read newspaper accounts of the more hedonistic side of the Villages, a seniors-only community built around a web of Main Streets and town squares, nonstop activities and nostalgia as a cure for modern stresses.
After moving away, Oppenheim came across a story about the Villages reaching a population milestone of 120,000 residents.
“I just became fascinated by that. The fact that thousands of people were uprooting their lives and moving into this ‘Truman Show’-like bubble that reminded them of their youth. This was how they wanted to spend the rest of their time,” Oppenheim says by phone from Los Angeles.
He pitched the idea of a documentary set in the Villages to The New York Times, which was so intrigued by his footage that it became not a short film, but Oppenheim’s first fulllength feature.
Everyone is a character at the Villages, which presents a challenge when looking for residents with a true story to tell.
Oppenheim spent parts of 2018 and 2019 at the Villages filming off and on with a small crew. But the search for stories began without cameras, the filmmaker living for weeks in a room on the property rented on Airbnb from two retired rodeo clowns.
He narrowed the film down to four subjects, who allowed Oppenheim remarkable access to their lives, dreams and regrets.
Anne and Reggie Kincer have been married for 47 years, growing more estranged. While Anne, disciplined and athletic, works out her frustrations with pickleball, Reggie lets his freak flag fly with a concoction of tai chi, meditation and drugs.
Reggie’s arrest and trial for possession of small amounts of THC and cocaine is a pivotal point in the film and in their relationship.
Barbara Lochiatto is a transplant from Boston in her early 60s who moved, reluctantly, to the Villages with her husband’s encouragement. He died four months before her scenes in the film, leaving her to struggle financially and emotionally.
Melancholy and remote, Barbara gradually overcomes her anxiety at joining the competitive dating scene at the Villages, with the help of a hard-partying golf-cart salesman known around the Villages as the Margarita Man.
The star of “Some Kind of Heaven” may be Dennis Dean, a smooth-talking 81-year-old playboy and interloper who lives in a blue van that he parks in different spots around the Villages property to avoid detection. He has moved from Palm Springs, California, possibly not of his own accord, with an unapologetic goal: to meet and move in with a good-looking woman with money.
“Some Kind of Heaven” was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, earning universal acclaim for its wit and warmth.
Variety reviewer Dennis Harvey offered high praise: “Those nostalgic for the fond portraits of eccentric Americana in Errol Morris’ early work — and pretty much everyone else — will be delighted by ‘Some Kind of Heaven.’”
But the most important critics were those featured in the film, who saw the finished product first, in a pre-Sundance screening at the Villages. Anne, Reggie, Barbara and Dennis had not met before Oppenheim hosted them for dinner and a movie.
“I was nervous, to be completely honest. To my surprise, they understood exactly what the film was and their role in helping to create it,” Oppenheim says. “They had the same feeling about a movie that could do this, a movie that becomes more tragic through its humor and more funny through its tragedy.”