The Villages in central Florida is the world’s largest retirement community – some 130,000 souls. Retirees have come from all over America to a place where there is no cold winter, no crime, no noisy children, and it seems, no people of colour. These oldsters (most are over 70, Baby Boomers of generation Woodstock) don’t look their age thanks to good DNA, sunscreen, enamel veneers and a sporty regimen of golf, swimming and singles parties. Many residents must love the safety and sun of this place and, after a lifetime of hard work are determined to let the good times roll again. Very much not drowning but waving! Many must love their new life but they don’t feature in Oppenheim’s documentary.
Take Lynn, a woman with a randy Yorkshire terrier and six calendars on her wall (she must adore Thomas Kinkade). She’s widowed and lonely, working full-time in an admin job she hates. She’d love to meet a Mr Right although the margarita mixologist in the garish Hawaiian shirts is clearly not he. Then there is poor, long-suffering Anne and her eccentric hubby Reggie who is partial to Tai Chi and a sniff of cocaine and shows early signs of dementia. And sprightly, 81-year-old Dennis who’s looking for the love of a rich woman so he doesn’t have to live (illegally) in his campervan. Like the others he seems to have few illusions about his golden years in the Villages. “We’re frogs,” he says, “Here till we croak.” It’s a fantasy bubble or, as one of them puts it, “Disneyworld for retirees”.
This troubled paradise offers time to discover and reinvent yourself but there is no immunity from isolation, unhappiness, and – the elephant in the cherry grove – the Grim Reaper hovering out of shot.
Quite how Oppenheim got such close access to his golden oldies is unclear. Maybe they don’t articulate all their feelings, but their eyes, which fill the screen, tell you everything. Perhaps when you have nothing left to lose, you have nothing left to hide. The photography is lush with all those sunsets behind palm trees, but sometimes the editing is trigger happy. A sequence of dancing, synchronised golf buggies is way too short. More crucially, there’s nothing of the subjects’ backstories or even an image of them when they were young.
It’s not clear if Oppenheim wants viewers to laugh at or pity his superannuated talking heads. Let’s pray that this is not a pilot for one of those interminable Netflix documentary series. Life’s too short.
Available On-demand and other digital platforms from Fri 14 May 2021