The Forty-Year-Old Version
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A former playwright on the cusp of her 40th birthday reinvents herself as a hip-hop artist.
Radha Blank wrote and stars in this semi-autobiographical film. Lena Waithe is on board as a producer.
A bitter-sweet, funny, gritty exploration of what it’s like to feel overlooked by the world, believing that your greatest achievements are behind you. Shot in 35mm, black and white, it’s fresh, exhilarating filmmaking in the vein of early John Cassavetes, Spike Lee, Susan Seidelman, and Robert Townsend.
An award-winning playwright before 30, Radha Blank is now teaching unruly students, trying to make ends meet in NYC. Her vulnerability and daily struggles transform viewers into her cheerleader five minutes into the film. Going on endless subway rides, frustrated and heartbroken about how to revive her playwriting career, she momentarily gets pulled back into theater, but feels compromised.
“I wouldn’t write the version of Black life that the gatekeepers value,” she says of her previous work. “I didn’t do poverty porn. I didn’t do war-torn Africa. I didn’t do period pieces where people would tap dance and sing.”
After producers homogenize the play she wrote until it’s unrecognizable to her, she discovers a new creative and emotional home in hip hop—and a new love interest.
Radha is supported by two well-developed characters not often seen on screen: newcomer Oswin Benjamin as the unassuming beats master who transforms into a complex, caring, inspiring influence; and Peter Kim as her high school friend-turned-agent, who struggles with his own identity as a gay Korean man.
Blank’s storytelling style embraces the part of everyone that deals with the issues of feeling old, over, but not done yet. It’s a hopeful look at how to persevere in a culture that ignores you. And, finally, an adult woman gets to helm a film that deals with mature issues using candor, humor, biting reality and a compelling soundtrack.
Friends who want a feel-good story with a back drop of New York City. Hamilton fans will love the hip-hop rhymes and dueling matches. Women facing mid-life will appreciate the mature story telling that honors and reveres their place in the world.
This film won the directing competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and rightly so. And Lena Waithe is a producer on the film.
The title, creating much SEO confusion, is a play on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. While also comedic, the Forty-Year-Old Version is a glorious, edgy exploration of New York life, Black culture and the worlds of theater and hip-hop. The writing, acting and cinematography all highlight a multifaceted cinema star with a bright career ahead of her, behind the camera and in more star turns on screen.