Netflix UK film review: The Forty-Year-Old Version
Bianca Garner | On 20, Oct 2020
Director: Radha Blank
Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Y Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney
Radha Blank is a name you must remember for the future. This year she exploded onto the big screen at Sundance with her directorial debut The Forty-Year-Old Version, which she also wrote and starred in. She dazzled and impressed critics and audiences alike, earning the US Dramatic Competition Directing Award. Funny, fresh and innovative, The Forty-Year-Old Version is the must-see film of 2020.
Radha plays a semi-autobiographical version of herself, also named Radha. She’s on the edge of turning 40, and was once an aspiring playwright. When we are first introduced to her, it’s obvious her life has gone slightly downhill. She lives in a small apartment and has to rely on public transport. She has not had a play produced in years. Her day job consists of teaching a bunch of lacklustre high school students, helping them create their own play. However, the students constantly clash with each other and Radha doesn’t get paid enough to deal with their immature squabbling.
Aside from the issues surrounding her teaching job, she is also being pestered by her brother to help clean out their dead mother’s apartment. As time passes we hear his voicemails getting even more demanding and less polite. There seem to be bigger problems on Radha’s mind. She’s written a play entitled “Harlem Ave”, which she’s desperate to put on. Her agent and best friend Archie (Peter Y Kim) wants her to strike up a deal with a producer named Josh Whitman (Reed Birney), who happens to be the most insufferable character you’ll come across this year. Whitman is all about “poverty porn” and is only interested in producing plays by Black artists if they place emphasis on the struggles of the Black community. However, Radha isn’t interested in that type of play, and loses her cool with Whitman, resulting in him being throttled and Radha left wondering what else she can do.
Radha decides to go down a different route and focus on the world of hip-hop under the alias RadhamMUSPrime. She spits rhymes about the realities of being a Black middle-aged woman trying to find herself in New York City. She also begins to develop an unexpected romance with Bronx-based beat maker D (Oswin Benjamin). Most importantly, she finally begins to be noticed.
Radha is a breath of fresh air on the screen. Her character is loud, brash and hilarious. She doesn’t mince her words and speaks her mind, something we rarely see from female characters on the big screen. Even though the character of Radha can be unlikeable at times, you can’t help but be left in awe of her intense passion, spirit and determination. She’s a force not to be reckoned with, but at the same time Radha ensures that we see the vulnerable side to the woman underneath that tough-cookie exterior.
It’s not only Radha who dazzles; each member of the supporting cast also delivers a noteworthy performance, especially Peter Y Kim whose scenes with Radha are an absolute delight to watch.
There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments that leave you gasping for air. Each line of dialogue has been cleverly crafted and delivered in such an authentic and genuine manner. All of the characters we encounter on the way seem also fleshed out and developed, rich and full of depth. Radha is certainly a talent in front of the camera but she also excels behind it too. No scene is wasted, and even though the film is over two hours long, it whizzes by as there’s never a dull moment.
The film is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Eric Branco, and while some may be put off by the fact that it’s shot in black and white (although there are the occasional bursts of colour), there’s so much going for this film that it would be a shame to miss out because of something so trivial. This is a gorgeous film to gaze upon, but it’s writing and performances are what really elevate it to a whole new level. Radha Blank has an energy that is infectious and one can only hope that she goes on to have more success because she really deserves it.