The film opens with a big black woman looking into a mirror. She opens her mouth and out spills the words that perfectly describe PMS in a body struggling with turning 40. My body gives a crampy tug in acknowledgment. My whole being just knows she is talking about us. This close connection to the narrative continues throughout The Forty Year Old Version, as it feels like writer/director/star of the movie Radha Blank is talking to me. And she is, kinda. The film is Blank’s story of getting the second wind and launching back into life with a newfound confidence in her own ability and pride in her own body and blackness. It’s unapologetic and uplifting.
A Story That So Many Black Women Relate To
So many of us Black women, for so many reasons, get a late start in the careers we really want to shine in. I wrote about getting into entertainment writing after 35 recently. There’s actually a name for it The Comeback Career. However you look at it, it seems that there are a lot of us who find ourselves on the high side of 40 and realizing that our chosen career is not what we are meant to do in life. In The Forty Year Old Version, Radha (as herself) is a playwright teaching kids in an art school program. She is a playwright who has not written a good play in years. Even the kids heckle her for being a loser. Radha is still grieving her mother and still trying to write and put on that great play. It’s a scenario that must end at some point, but we never know when to do so. It feels so real.
That’s the thing, as Radha goes through her life in the film, trying to eke out what little career she has left, so many of us are traveling with her, but thinking of our own journeys. She gets an opportunity to put on one last play, but the white producer is so lowkey racist that he made her severely compromise her vision. This is the last straw. This whole time, she is dabbling with some verses. Her decision to follow that passion to wherever it leads ends up putting her on an interesting path. She takes the play on as well, but we all know it is her last time.
A Black and White Comedic Inspiration
The film is a vibrant exploration of the hip-hop underground. The battle of the rap queens was a gloriously empowering scene. A new love, D, played by Oswin Benjamin, takes Radha on a ride to see just how far her passion can take her. All she has to do is let go of society’s age and body standards. D encourages her to blaze a path of her own—a feat the is scary and exhilarating. A scene when Radha visited D to find herself amongst kids half her age doing the same thing was so real to me. Imposter syndrome set in and all she wanted to do was leave. However, D tells that woman that she has something special that the others don’t Radha has stories to tell.
The film’s black and white look works very well to capture the story that is often melancholy. And, when it laughs, it’s laughing at itself. The dark humor and subject matter all seem to fit together under the colorless lens. The film is also an ode to the hip-hop underground of New York and Philadelphia. With Radha’s humorous and relatable bars, The Forty Year Old Version becomes the film of the year for the (aging) awkward Black women like me. We still have dreams and now we just need the confidence to chase them.
The Forty Year Old Version is streaming on Netflix. You can hear Blank discuss working on the film in an interview with The Black Cape.
5 of 5