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Review: Radha Blank brings the house down in 'The Forty-Year-Old Version'

Courtesy of Netflix


Rarely are movies about folks entering their mid-life crisis entertaining, but in Radha Blank’s fierce directorial debut “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” audiences will be treated to one of the more unique and yes, entertaining, 2020 offerings. 

The story about a struggling 39-year-old playwright who wakes up and decides she wants to become a rapper is probably being checked off many folks’ cinematic bucket list. Blank is a force of nature who surpasses even the modest of expectations and though you might assume her film is headed for a certain direction, this feel-good story consistently proves the viewer wrong.

Most probably know Blank as a critically acclaimed playwright, or for her stints on shows “She's Gotta Have It” and “Empire,” but now people will see an entirely different side of her: lead actress and director. The Radha on screen isn’t as successful as the Radha in real life, in “Version” she’s still fumbling with her purpose. Once pegged on a “30 under 30” watchlist for playwrights, in the years since she’s barely gained notoriety and gets her income from teaching theater to inner city youth.

Her most recent work, “Harlem Ave” has been optioned for a workshop, while agent and longtime best friend, Archie (Peter Y. Kim) hopes to boost her career by warming up to hotshot Broadway producer, Josh Whitman (Reed Birney), who's currently looking for writers to help bring his Harriet Tubman musical to life. 

Idiots like Whitman are the wrench in the system holding back talented voices to tell bold stories. That he would rather indulge in the idea of an interracial version of “Fences” says all you need to know about his character. But just when Radha is thought to have hit rock bottom, she recalls fond childhood memories of creating slick raps to entertain friends and family. Under the name RadhaMUSprime, the aspiring hip/hop artist links up with an Instagram DJ who goes by the name D (Oswin Benjamin, an actual hop-hop singer) and the two strike up a compelling, professional, relationship.

She then must decide between a tug of war between which path is the right one, and the results are an engaging drama about finding yourself in the most unexpected ways, and to never falter in your dreams. This setup probably sounds familiar to anyone who watches movies for a living or can get lost in a well-versed play. The difference this time being Blank who completely understands the territory and doesn’t settle for the easy way out. Instead, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” challenges stereotypes and its audience.

I’m sure collaborators in the theatre world have dealt with a snobby producer who pretends to be more woke than they are. For example, Whiteman trolling in and thinking his notes on Radha’s gentrification of Harlem will benefit anyone is eye rolling. As the movie progresses, Blank doesn’t let up on the creepy Whitman and Birney’s odd performance certainly adds fuel to the fire. But this is Radha’s show and she crushes from the start and one has to be grateful it found a solid distribution partner with Netflix, which guarantees access to a wide audience. Folks of all ages who are struggling with their own goals in 2020 should benefit from the uplifting message of “The Forty-Year-Old Version” with Blank’s middle-aged battle cry serving as the wake up call America could use right now.  

Grade: B+

THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION debuts on Netflix Friday October 9th. 


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