The Forty-Year-Old Version is about a playwright, Radha, who after her rising star fades, has taken a teaching position to pay the bills. She tries everything to get her creative juices flowing even attempting a mixtape for a possible career shift to hip-hop. She ends up being talked out of it and compromising her art for a shot at her play getting produced, but it could be her breaking point. The film stars Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Imani Lewis, Haskiri Velasquez, Antonio Ortiz, T.J. Adams, Oswin Benjamin, and Reed Birney. The film is written and directed by Radha Blank. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
I loved this movie. The influences of Spike Lee are there, but Radha Blank's voice is so strong that you forget the comparisons almost immediately after they happen. The film is witty, hilarious, and sometimes utterly cringe-worthy, but unmistakably great. I love the semi-autobiographical feel as Blank brings in her own experiences as a playwright because it makes it feel all the more real.
The Forty-Year-Old Version depicts a facet of art that's always in the background of similarly themed films. The people with the money to produce are the people that will shift a voice and a point of view into something barely resembling the original product. There's a lot of compromise in art if an artist wants to live off of what they create. Even though Radha chokes out Whitman, after he pitches her his Harriet Tubman musical, which morphs into an Ida B. Wells musical and a Shirley Chisholm musical after that, he knows he needs her more than she needs him so he forgives her so they can move forward with her play. What Whitman wants is what Radha lays out in her first full track, "Poverty Porn." Whitman seeks a way to exploit Black stories in a way that will get white audiences interested rather than presenting the multiple facets and diverse stories of black life.
"Poverty Porn" is a great song. That's the thing about Radha's career shift, it's actually believable because she is a talented rapper. So many films of this type go the delusional route of a creative or professional making a career shift into something they have no business doing. Radha's only problem is the stage fright associated with the rapping. She gets an opportunity at a showcase and just flops. It's not until she has a reason to speak her mind, when she's lost what she thought she had, that she has the courage to try again. It also helps she has a creative force like D encouraging her transition.
The romance of D and Radha is very intense. I love that slow burn and not quite there relationship because D has a hard time telling Radha how he feels. He sticks with her. He pursues her and pushes her to give the world her immense talent as an unfiltered flow. His supportiveness is so sexy and so refreshing. He could care less about his own business because he knows he has what he needs, but he wants so much to nurture a true talent and the person with it. It's an incredible relationship to see play out. If you're a long time reader you also know I love a great platonic romance and the one that plays out in Archie and Radha's friendship is an utter delight.
Radha Blank is a creative powerhouse. She wrote and directed The Forty-Year-Old Version, but she also knocks the lead performance completely out of the park. Her timing, her passion, and her emotions poor forth into this role with incredible power. One of my favorite scenes that could have been played a number of ways, but hits the exact right note is when Radha finally returns her brother's call and goes to their deceased mother's apartment. It's a scene that could have easily become maudlin or mawkish, but in the performance, she is perfect. I am hoping for more from her in the future. I want to watch her for a long time to come.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is the perfect film for those of us who may have peaked too early, or missed our opportunity, because it concludes with how silly that proposition is. The winding paths of life can shift direction quickly and fork many times before we reach the end, but nothing is concrete about it. We, like Radha, can take detour. It's a brilliant film and you should watch it.