As the director and star, Radha Blank has poetic justice.
Try not to get confused with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” when you see “The Forty-Year-Old Version” in Netflix’s new releases.
Two movies this week I’ve reviewed African American dramas shot in black and white and all about people and their perspectives on life. They would happen to be “Time,” director Garret Bradley’s beautiful doc about a mother of 6 freeing her husband from a 60-year prison sentence, and “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” a comedy/drama produced by, written by, directed by, and starring Radha Blank (the producer of “She’s Gotta Have It”).
It reminded me of how Kevin Smith used the scope to begin his career with “Clerks,” and this one plays like a semi-autobiography as it was inspired by how Blank was a playwright in Brooklyn, New York. She delivers on the culture and time presented in “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” by expressing it through words, raps, and people. In fact, I’d love to see Spike Lee working with her. In the meantime, Lena Waite produces the movie.
Radha, a struggling playwright, who’s turning 40-years-old soon, lost her mother, teaches a drama class, and can’t find a breakthrough in her work. She even attacks a Broadway producer named Josh Whitman (Reed Birney) after offering her a writing position in his Harriet Tubman musical. She then informs her agent and best friend Archie (Peter Kim) about her plans to write a rap song about her views of turning 40. She even gives herself the name RadhaMUSprime, you know like Optimus Prime.
So, she turns to a beat maker named D (Oswin Benjamin), whom she discovered on Instagram, to record her raps. At first, she has the lyrics to express herself in his recording studio, but on stage, she chokes by saying “yo, yo, yo, yo.” She now must resort to writing a play called “Harlem Ave.” for Whitman, who dropped the charges against her for attacking him. She’ll incorporate her raps into the play about what’s going on in Harlem.
During her time, she connects with D, who also lost his mother, and suggests that she talks to her mother in spirit. She doesn’t know what to say to her, but he gives her the lyrics and spirits. These scenes prove that this beat maker isn’t a stereotypical pot smoker (and he charges bags of weed for some sessions), but he’s a person with real ambitions in life. And so is Radha.
“The Forty-Year-Old-Version” gets a little boring when the raps go on long, but they’re filled with poetry, cursing, and representation about one’s culture. Radha Blank ignites the screen, in front of and behind the camera, when she provides a woman with struggles and opportunities. Her struggles include paying her rent and finding a successful play, and her opportunities include a new relationship with D and her collaboration with Whitman. And while Kim provides a somewhat comic relief character as Archie, Benjamin is flat-out undeniable as D with his dialogue and potential.
There are situations that feel real and provocative like a classroom fight between two girls, rap battles, Radha taking the bus to work, and her life in Brooklyn. And the sense of humor merges well with the drama and realism by being honest and flexible. It represent the main heroine’s life through her perspectives. And the final ten minutes explain the meaning of the title. The initials for Forty-Year-Old-Version is FYOV, and it also means “Find your own voice.” That’s what she does here.
Now Streaming on Netflix and In Select Theaters