By Nadia Dalimonte
Radha Blank in The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)
Radha Blank’s funny and passionate directorial debut feature, The Forty-Year-Old Version, is by far one of the best films of the year. Blank, who stars in the film and wrote the screenplay, is an incredible storyteller with a clear vision about artistic expression.
The story is about Radha, a playwright looking for a breakthrough in New York City. Ten years after writing a play and winning a ’30-Under-30’ award, she now teaches a small group of students for a theatre company that doesn’t get the proper funding. She is at the mid-life point where she’s being “rediscovered”, even though she’s been here all this time, working and writing. She’s currently working on a play about a Black couple living in a gentrified Harlem. Her friend and agent, Archie (Peter Y. Kim), tries to look for avenues that would welcome her voice. The search gets her in the room with celebrated theatre producer J. Whitman (Reed Birney), who makes her empty promises that she’ll get to actually tell her story. He has a history of misrepresentation and wants Radha’s play done his way: completely reshaped to suit white audiences.
At the heart of this story, beautifully directed in black and white, is an authentic voice who needs to be heard. Blank explores working in a white dominated industry that continually pushes marginalized artists to compromise their stories. As Radha loses more and more control of her own play, she starts using her voice as RadhaMUSPrime, rapping about her experiences. She eventually meets music producer D (Oswin Benjamin), who encourages her and the two form an intimate connection as the play’s opening night quickly approaches.
Blank also includes documentary-style interviews with people on the subject of turning forty. This adds another layer of perspective to the sentiment that 40 is not too late, that there is an audience for ’40-Over-40’. The 40-Year-Old Version is a compelling film with a brilliant lead performance by Blank and a pitch perfect supporting cast, who altogether make a memorable mark.