“The Forty-Year-Old Version” stars Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin, and Reed Birney. Released on Netflix on October 9, 2020, the film is about a playwright who reinvents herself as a rapper.
The film is written and directed by Radha Blank in her directorial debut. Sometimes, you just have to change things up in order to maintain your career. We’re continuing this year’s awards season with another Sundance favorite on one of the streaming services. HBO Max has “Charm City Kings” under its belt, and now Netflix has “The Forty-Year-Old Version”, a black-and-white film that has a first-time filmmaker multitasking as a director, producer, writer, and star, and no, it is not a follow-up to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”. I tried to explain the film to my mother one day, and she thought I said “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”. True story. Why is it that the word “version” almost sounds exactly like “virgin”? I didn’t realize this was coming out until I saw the poster for it. Afterwards, I looked up some information about it and watched its trailer. It turns out that it is loosely based on Blank’s real-life experience as both a playwright and a rapper. That’s when I realized that it should be on my list of films to see before the Oscars. Did I make the right decision? I sure did.
As I mentioned before, the film loosely follows the career of Radha Blank (played by Blank herself), a New York playwright who is desperately searching for a breakthrough before she reaches 40. Struggling to turn her career around with her latest screenplay, she decides to switch things up a bit by moving away from the world of theater and into the world of hip-hop. Now known as RadhaMUSPrime, Radha goes on a personal journey to find her true voice. This is a story that we’re familiar with, but it is told in a way that only Radha Blank can tell, not just through her performance and her screenplay, but also through her directorial style. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” showcases the harsh struggles of making one’s creativity known in a white-dominated community from the perspective of an African-American playwright. There’s no better person who can represent it on screen than the woman who experienced it firsthand, and I got to say, I was really impressed with what she brought to the table in terms of the direction and script. Blank’s filmmaking style, combined with the film’s beautiful cinematography, obviously displayed the total control that she had. I can definitely see that she had the creative freedom needed to tell the story she wanted to tell and she didn’t waste that type of freedom, which is honestly one of the best parts of the film in my opinion. As for her screenplay, she successfully handled a bunch of comedic and dramatic elements without making them too sappy or too cheesy for her target audience. Not only was it well-executed when it comes to the dialogue, but it was also pretty darn funny. There were plenty of humorous moments that weren’t offensive or tasteless or anything. Part of the humor comes from the film’s own sense of honesty and energy, which was once again handled very well by Blank. But what about her acting? Was she just as talented onscreen as she was behind the camera? Yes. Yes, she was. Just like her rapping, Blank’s performance never missed a single beat. Because she’s playing the film version of herself, she had the perfect opportunity to fully connect with her character in terms of her personality and her emotions, resulting in something that could provide some tough competition during this year’s award ceremonies. Peter Kim and Oswin Benjamin also turned in some very solid performances as Archie (Blank’s friend) and D respectively.
Overall, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is an honest and inspiring representation of finding one’s own voice through the eyes of the person who lived through it. It’s the type of film that fully expresses the fact that a person’s creative freedom can lead to spectacular results. Radha Blank has proved herself to be a remarkable filmmaker thanks to her engaging performance, her screenplay, and her directorial style. Combine those things with its rich cinematography and its social themes and you get one of the best films that Netflix has to offer this year. If you’re familiar with Blank’s career as a playwright and a rapper, this film is definitely worth checking out. Radha Blank, if you’re reading this, thank you for bringing your story to life and keep up the good work.