The 400-Word Review: The 40-Year-Old Version
By Sean Collier
October 9, 2020
In a blistering rap that serves as the climax of “The 40-Year-Old Version,” multiple phrases — including the film’s title — are invoked under the acronym “F.Y.O.V.” Another, perhaps the film’s ethos, is “find your own voice.”
That mantra makes this remarkable film, which in many ways is hyper-specific, thoroughly universal. The circumstances of our protagonist’s life are her own; her struggle, between a quiet and expected existence and something more audacious, is eminently relatable. Who cannot relate to the heartfelt desire to create from a place of authenticity? Who does not look around the edges of one’s life to find a path to something more true? Who cannot agree: We’d like, if we can, to find our own voices?
Written by, directed by and starring Radha Blank, “The 40-Year-Old Version” is an irresistible tale of early-mid-life reinvention. Blank plays a struggling playwright, once lauded as an up-and-comer but years removed from notable success; she fights to find the motivation to teach her trade to a contentious group of students.
Her lifelong friend and agent (Peter Kim) urges her to reconnect with a pretentious theater producer (Reed Birney) who could stage the show she’s been working on. When he tells her that her story, a play called “Harlem Ave.” about a married pair of shopkeepers, isn’t authentic enough — and instead asks her to contribute to a Harriet Tubman musical he’s developing — she snaps.
Aside from a hilarious and delicious moment of violence, that also means a newfound desire to pursue her teenage affinity for hip-hop. She resurrects a high-school M.C. sobriquet — RadhaMUSPrime — and finds a gifted producer (Oswin Benjamin) on Instagram.
Refreshingly, “The 40-Year-Old Version” is not a rocket-to-stardom story. Radha’s (she’s credited only by that name) first performance is a disaster, and she finds herself compromising deeply in order to get “Harlem Ave.” produced on Broadway. It would’ve been easy to turn this tale into a fictionalized version of the Oscar-bait music biopics that have clogged cinemas in recent years, with Radha learning lessons after scoring hits; instead, Blank has opted to make a story that feels much more genuine and infinitely more affecting.
“The 40-Year-Old Version” is a fine and engrossing piece of entertainment. It’s also a singular vision that rings as clear as a bell. Many films aim to be inspiring; this movie uses inspiration as a constant pulse.
My Rating: 10/10
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is playing in limited theaters and streaming on Netflix.