It’s crucial that the subject of a semi-autobiographical film has a near-perfect likeability and relatability factor for it to work, and “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” loosely based on the career struggles of artist Radha Blank, has personality to spare. A longtime playwright, Blank penned the screenplay for her feature film directorial debut and also stars in the lead role. She’s a triple threat in that sense, and the film is impressive on many counts.
Radha (Blank)is a struggling artist living in Harlem. Faced with one cold shoulder after another, the woman takes charge of her life and her quest to find her true voice. It sounds corny, but it’s far from it. There’s a positive message about being true to yourself, but the intensely personal narrative speaks to the inner creative in all of us.
The simple fact that there’s a movie about (and made by) a 40-year-old black woman makes it stand out, which speaks volumes to how few underrepresented voices and stories there are in the film world. The climate is getting better, especially among the independent cinema crowd, but more narratives like this should always be welcomed.
It’s a feel-good story too, as Radha relies on years of rejection to drive her towards her real passion: she reinvents herself as a hip-hop rapper.
The film is sincere and works so well because of Radha’s big screen personality. Here is a lead actor and character that I felt a strong connection to within minutes. She’s a sassy, non-nonsense woman who has been there and done that, a person with an appealing poise and tenacity, who has little trouble speaking her mind. She’s charming and charismatic, and her stumbles feel authentic. You’ll root for her too.
Blank has an impressive confidence not only in front of the camera, but behind it as well. There’s a remarkably polished style to her directing (it’s gorgeous looking as well, shot in 35mm on black and white film). She’s going to be a director to watch, which in itself is an achievement as a 40-year-old minority woman.
There’s organic humor that provides laughs, but watching the film sometimes feels more like homework than enjoyable entertainment. It’s definitely a movie for theater people, and many of the jokes are geared towards a very specific audience. The film was originally conceived as a web series, a format that may have been better suited for the material because a two hour run time still feels too long. But if you’re looking for a fresh story, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is one that will be part of the conversation come awards season.