A multi-hyphenate talent, Radha Blank makes an incredibly assured and confident debut with The Forty Year Old Version. Taking the Sundance Film Festival by storm earlier this year, Netflix scooped the movie up, finally releasing it to their streaming platform this week. For those not at Sundance, they’ve only heard about Blank and her work here. Now, everyone will get a chance to see for themselves. Despite a few small missteps, Blank showcases why she’s almost certainly going to be a true force in the industry for years to come.
The Forty Year Old Version is shot in black and white, but the colorful language more than breathes contemporary life into the tale. Independent features that opt for this type of cinematography are rarely dramedies about rappers, but very little about this is a typical movie.
Interestingly, Netflix is quickly becoming a home for films that do well on the festival circuit. Gone seem to be the days of a title selling at a fest, playing at numerous other ones, then using that buzz to open in platform release and hopefully become a crossover hit. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s something that’s noticeable these days (not counting 2020, which basically eliminated the concept of movie theaters, for the time being).
The film follows Radha (Blank), a New York City playwright, desperate to have some kind of creative breakthrough in the industry before her 40th birthday. It’s been a struggle, one that has her teaching high school theater to unappreciative students and being only offered fairly insulting gigs. The play she wants to produce is stuck in neutral, even with her agent and childhood best friend Archie (Peter Kim) helping her out. At her wit’s end, and trying to save her career, she comes up with a bit of a lark. She’ll reinvent herself. Moreover, she’ll transform into a rapper, choosing the name RadhaMUSPrime. Quickly finding more success this way, she quickly discovers that hip hop offers her a voice she never knew she had.
With the help of a DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin), RadhaMUSPrime starts to make a name for herself, even participating in rap battles. As Radha gets more and more notice there, Archie pushes her to pitch a new play to investors like Josh Whitman (Reed Birney). It turns out, this new persona may have been the key to unlocking Radha’s truest voice.
Radha Blank is going places, no doubt about it. Her acting, as well as her directing and writing, have a vibrancy that demands to be noticed. This is truly a vehicle for Blank, doing it all here. Aside from the strong black and white cinematography from Eric Branco, nearly everything you notice in the flick comes from her. Blank’s acting and writing are more advanced than her directing, but utilizing’s Branco’s visuals do help give this one a unique personality.
The Forty Year Old Version stumbles mainly due to an overly long running length, one that the narrative doesn’t quite deserve. The first act shows a lot of promise, which the second and third acts fulfill, but perhaps not exactly as fully as hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good movie. It just had a chance to be great, but a little bit of slack pacing prevents that goal from being met.
Netflix is a perfect home for The Forty Year Old Version, which will make Blank’s debut far more widely seen than most Sundance indies can ever hope for. Anyone looking for a clever showcase for a new talent will find plenty to enjoy here.