The Forty-Year-Old Version
This Sundance favourite will soon be in the orbit of Netflix’s enormous audience, and it’ll join Roma and I’m Thinking of Ending Things as one of the service’s rare offerings of something so unique and complex yet so accessible. There are very few films out there like this one. The auteur and subject is Radha Blank, who has assembled an amalgam of excellent writing, directing and acting for an autobiographical feature about her experiences as a writer in New York.
Radha is a playwright chasing bigger ambitions, trying to produce a show about gentrification. But white Broadway manager Josh (Reed Birney) strongly believes she needs to add a caucasian character to personify her theme and proposes the artist write a Harriet Tubman musical instead. Whilst the protagonist struggles in the world of theatre despite encouragement from her agent and best friend Archie (Peter Y Kim), Radha returns to her hip-hop roots, seeking out the help of a DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin). Both endeavours are keenly supported by her class of young acting students, who love “Miss B” in every way.
This richly creative film chronicles the journey of a black creative whose artistry is under threat of being compromised by her white peers, contorted to fit into a stereotypical box. As she raps at on point, “If I wanna get on, I better write some poverty porn.” But whilst the movie is often poignant, the multi-talented Blank is stunningly good with comedy, injecting her feature with humour at every turn, from landing one-liners to guiding tone-perfect performances from her cast.
It’s a wonderful piece about creative struggles, and the marvellous irony is that the filmmaker has zero boundaries when experimenting with aesthetic choices in order to tell such a story. Blank’s flairs include a black-and-white visual, the breaking of the fourth wall and some welcome narrative detours – the best involves a women’s battle rap competition – all whilst giving her characters room to grow. Naturally, her unyielding vision warrants a fairly long length – the feature runs for 129 minutes – but it’s hard to consider cutting scenes without diminishing the aura of the movie.
An indie film within a mainstream framework, The Forty-Year-Old-Version examines various social and cultural issues from an entirely new perspective. Blank captures the collateral relationship between hip-hop and theatre, the singular mood of New York and the unstructured life of a 40-year-old black woman all under one umbrella. It’s a total original.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is released in select cinemas on 2nd October 2020 and on Netflix on 9th October 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Forty-Year-Old Version here: