The Forty-Year-Old Version

Radha Blank in The Forty-Year-Old Version.
Radha Blank in The Forty-Year-Old Version.
Photo: Jeong Park/Netflix


5/5 Stars


Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. But when she foils what seems like her last shot at success, she's left with no choice but to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime.


Growing old isn't always graceful - but it's also not the end of your life - and many don't figure out their lives by the age of 30. That's the lesson that can be learnt from the fresh, humorous and unapologetic film The Forty-Year-Old Version - a big detour from Netflix's usual fare. Mixed to a black-and-white palette that stands in contrast to its colourful leading lady, it's an ode to the creatives that are constantly chasing their big break but forget why they wanted to be artists in the first place.

Written and directed by Radha Blank - who also stars as the lead - the story focuses on an ageing playwright that was an up-and-comer almost a decade ago, still trying to wrestle her way into the big leagues. Unwilling to bend her new Harlem play to the whims of a white producer, she starts venting her frustrations at turning 40 and the world through rap.

In black and white, The Forty-Year-Old Version is completely different to what it would have been in colour. Without it, you're almost less distracted by what you're seeing and a lot more tuned into the substance of what's being said - or in this case, rapped. Blank has a great way of letting the viewers in on her emotional state and inner dialogue, like reading a book, yet retaining the cinematic expectations of not always exactly knowing what's going to happen. She's a black woman with an artist's soul but frustrated at not finding the right avenue for her vision. Her best friend and agent tries all he can to help her succeed, but they are at odds on what success looks like. Besides the style, it's very much devoid of the frilliness of romcoms and a more accurate depiction of life, romance, art and ambition.

The film also explores black women's experience, especially at the age of 40, and I would like to point out, as a white woman who just hit 30, there are definitely some nuances that I would have missed or which had less of an impact on me. But even if you don't fall into the same group as onscreen Radha, you'll still empathise with her struggle, her mistakes and her courage to stay true to herself and her artistic vision. She rhymes her way into a world dominated by not only men, but youth, and makes space for herself despite what's expected of a 40-year-old black woman.

And that's not even talking about how great her tracks are as well, which will be hitting my playlists soon.

I am in two minds about it being on a streaming site though. On the one hand, it would have been great to have seen it on the big screen in some independent cinema house with a glass of red wine. However, I feel like it would have gotten completely lost at the cinemas while Netflix audiences (read American) are more willing to spend time on a two-hour black-and-white production. At least it got some air time on the big screen at Sundance earlier this year, where Blank also won the well-deserved US Dramatic Competition Directing Award.

If you're stuck in a slump, either in your career or in your relationship, let Radha Blank spit some inspiration your way. The Forty-Year-Old Version is a reminder that even if you haven't achieved your dreams at the age of 40, it doesn't mean it's over just yet, and in the end, it matters more that you love your final masterpiece than whether your critics love it.



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