By Larry Gavrich
January 29, 2021 — With 3,000 social clubs, more than 30 golf clubs, 89 swimming pools and dozens of taverns, The Villages in north central Florida does not seem like the kind of place where any residents could be depressed or bored. But, according to a new documentary film called Some Kind of Heaven, there may be a thin line between heaven and hell in the famous – some might say “infamous” — community.
The movie focuses on three subjects, two single people and a married couple, all four dealing with different personal demons. An 80-something male is the instrument of his own misery, a “vagrant” living out of his van and hanging out at the community pools hoping to find a lady who will take him home and tend to his goal of a life of leisure – all expenses paid. You likely won’t feel much sympathy for his plight; he is both cunning and conning.
A second case of a recently widowed lady engenders more pathos. She admits she missed her chance to return to her native Massachusetts and family shortly after her husband died. Now she can’t afford the move back. I felt for her as she sought companionship in a community with plenty to offer but not the kind of offers she needs. She is the feature of the movie’s final scene, and it is heartbreaking.
The most difficult situation is faced by the couple – the wife, actually – in trying to reconcile the husband’s drug habit and mental deterioration. He is maddeningly weird; his wife, an otherwise savvy and articulate lady, is maddeningly tolerant of his excesses, which include a bizarre appearance before a judge who loses his patience with the offender. Her desire to save her 47-year-long marriage is noble, but she appears to be throwing good intentions at a hopelessly bad situation.
The Villages is the context for these four depressing stories, and although the filmmakers are generally even-handed in their description of the community itself – there is no narrator, the residents do all the talking – they can’t help taking a poke here and there. (For example, a dozen members of one exclusive club introduce themselves with, “Hi, I’m Elaine.” Like the wandering souls of The Cheers Bar, they choose “to go where everybody knows [their] name.” I found myself wondering what they discuss at meetings.)
The Villages suits some people and not others. Some love it for the diversity of golf, a mind-numbing roster of clubs and activities, its 24 x 7 party atmosphere, reasonably priced real estate and the fact no one has to work too hard to find friends. Others will curdle at all those options and think much less is more.
*Some Kind of Heaven is available to rent on Amazon Prime and VOD (Video On Demand) through your cable company.
Larry Gavrich is the author of Glorious Back Nine as well as a consultant for individuals and couples considering living in a golfing community.