The début film from director-star Radha Blank, The Forty-Year-Old Version follows a disillusioned playwright on the eve of her 40th birthday, rethinking her life and priorities. 39-year-old Radha-who gained the elusive ‘New York’s 30 under 30 to Watch’ a decade ago-is down on her luck. After not having luck getting any of her plays off the ground, and teaching a raucous group of high school kids, she embarks on a new venture: rapper.
With an ear to the streets and her own experiences as a late 30s Black woman Harlemite, Radha decides to make a mixtape. Searching out a producer named D (maker of dope beats and speaker of few words), she discovers that her former talent for writing and spitting rhymes hasn’t abated. D is equally impressed (although he doesn’t show it) and thoroughly charmed (also not shown).
Meanwhile, Radha’s long-suffering best friend and agent, Archie, goes beyond the agent-client relationship (No really. Diddling an old guy’s nether regions is beyond the pale.) and gets her play Harlem Ave. greenlit by renowned producer, Jay Whitman. The only issue: Whitman is a purveyor of Black pain porn and white savior stories. Radha’s play-a microcosm of a Black Harlem couple running a bodega-with its indictment on gentrification, begins to resemble nothing what she wrote. This, coupled with her desire to make a mixtape, sets her on a spiraling wave of disappointment.
It takes D rescuing her from the most awkward play rehearsal to help Radha find herself. At a ‘Queen of the Ring’ freestyle battle, they watch women MCs come hard and correct, which inspires Radha to reevaluate her role as playwright on Harlem Ave. It also gives her insight to how a young, virile man sees her as attractive and desirable. She and D have a physical and emotional compatibility that causes Radha to question if she’s doing the right thing with a 26 year-old guy.
Struggling to feel pride in what her creation morphed into, Radha hides out in the bar at the premiere of her play. The very white audience is thrilled by the story and the sinking realization she has is that she sold out. Sold out for the money. Sold out for the comfort of being a produced writer. It’s a sobering thought and causes Radha to take the mic at the end of Harlem Ave. express that very viewpoint and reiterate that she plans on being true to herself from now on.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is a charming and frank look at the precipice a late 30s/early 40s Black woman faces. Not quite young and definitely not old make for interesting bedfellows and director-star Radha Blank blends those elements seamlessly and poignantly. As a first-time feature, Blank hit the jackpot with a story that captures the essence of a hardened but hopeful New Yorker. This is a must-watch for your next Netflix binge.
Catch The Forty-Year-Old Version on Netflix now.