'Playing Hooky': Film Review

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Playing Hooky Still - H 2015

Courtesy of RiverRun Film Festival

The Bottom Line

An energetic doc about the Sun City retirement community


RiverRun Film Festival


Susan Gluth

There are no schools, no city hall, no crime, and taxes are very low. Sounds like Utopia, but it’s Sun City, Arizona. Conceived by Del Webb, Sun City was the first retirement community in the world, and Playing Hooky is an up-close – you could say pre-mortem – on the place and its inhabitants, who live out their “golden years” in the desert. It’s a kind, keen look at a segment of society that people are too often afraid to acknowledge or address. This smart and heartfelt documentary would indeed be a terrific addition to a cable health network’s programming. The title is really the only thing one can quibble about; it doesn’t quite translate.

German filmmaker Susan Gluth, whose Soap and Water delighted festival audiences here at the RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem a few years back, has distilled the late-life experience, as well as the mindset of those who live in Sun City. In the Dylan-ese of their generation, these residents are Knockin at Heaven’s Door. 

Although it’s a Frederick Wiseman-esque look at an institution, the film is not morbid but rather a jaunty, spirited portrait of a community. Still, as Gluth’s superb film intones, “growing old is not for sissies.” Shot over a 7-year period from 2004 to 2011, Playing Hooky makes for a vital and empathetic cultural ethnography. At is most bleak, Playing Hooky documents the precipitous health downturns that can occur for these elderly citizens.

The contrapuntal western music and joie de vivre of the subjects are infectious, emblematic of the filmmaker's own compassionate, upbeat vision. There are also some surreal and sobering shots, particularly of wheel-chair warehouses and the unique geriatric devices the community must use. 

Focusing on several different residents, Gluth conveys not only the aches and pains of growing old, but also the resilient spirit of the numerous Sun City dwellers who “do not go softly”  into the sunset.

Director/producer/cinematographer: Susan Gluth

Music: Andreas Weidinger

Editors: Susan Gluth, Andreas Zitzmann, Gerhard Schabel

No Rating, 99 minutes

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