The Magic Kingdom may draw millions of tourists to Orlando, but nearly 80,000 straight seniors have settled in The Villages, a perfect, planned retirement community worthy of a modern-day Disney fairy tale.
“Some Kind of Heaven,” a documentary opening next week in theaters across the region, examines the idyllic lifestyle The Villages offers its lucky residents.
Yes, life is good in The Villages, located about an hour northwest of Orlando. There are plenty of activities to choose from — the golf cart drill team, canasta clubs, line dancing lessons, a marching band and, yes, dozens of senior singles bars.
There’s no time to sit back and simply while away the days until they die; most denizens are living the dream in this massive, self-contained utopia.
Director Lance Oppenheim, a Florida native, celebrates the magic but also reveals some of inevitable warts behind the perfect facade (and he doesn’t even touch the community’s surprisingly high STD rate).
Barbara Lochiatto and her husband skimped and saved to finally make the pilgrimage south from Boston a decade ago. Unfortunately, her husband died prematurely and the money dried up, leaving Barbara working as a clerk in a medical office. Every day is a struggle and a fairy godmother won’t likely save the day.
Dennis Dean (no relation to the famed local photographer and art director) is an interloper, a septuagenarian California surfer dude who lives out of his van and hunts for a wealthy sugar mama in the local bars, nightclubs and pools.
Anne and Reggie Kincer’s quiet retirement is anything but, as Reggie’s outsized personality becomes more detached from reality. He might be suffering from the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, but an arrest for possession of THC and small amount of cocaine “he forgot about” in his wallet hints at a bigger problem that may ultimately tear their marriage apart.
All are sympathetic through Oppenheim’s caring lens, but also a reminder that retirement is not always easy. “Some Kind of Heaven” also indirectly makes the point that the gays don’t have it so different from the straights, either.
Let’s compare The Villages to Wilton Manors:
Wilton Manors has one of the largest concentrations of LGBT seniors in the country. Those LGBT residents enjoy an array of activities (admittedly not all senior-exclusive, but overwhelmingly senior-welcoming), including choruses and a band, dance lessons, social clubs, a community center, housing, restaurants and bars.
Unlike other cities where mature men over 40 are automatically labeled “trolls,” a number of clubs cater specifically to them, affording a vibrant social scene similar to the glory days of their youth in the gay ghettos of New York, Philly, Pittsburgh and D.C. It’s easy to be gray and gay in Wilton Manors.
But that’s not where the similarities end. Alcoholism, drug use and HIV/AIDS are still prevalent and housing in South Florida is expensive, gobbling up those retirement nest eggs quickly. More than a few LGBT seniors are struggling to survive, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that affected so many low-paying service industry jobs over the past nine months.
The vast majority of LGBT seniors are indeed living well in their Wilton Manors bubble, just like most of the residents of The Villages. Neither is Fantasyland, but after watching “Some Kind of Heaven,” it’s easy to see that we’re not all that different after all and it’s OK to look forward to retirement.
“Some Kind of Heaven” opens in theaters on Jan. 8 and streaming on-demand on Jan. 15. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.