THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION – Review by April Neale

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Filmmaker Radha Blank’s starring turn as the fictional Radha is one to watch. She is at a trifecta milestone in life, ruing her age, simultaneously grieving her mother — all while trying to make sense of her once ballyhooed career and survive in a city that costs a lot of money to live in. What’s an artist to do?

This observant and comedic sidewinder is lensed and written perfectly, as we follow along this likable woman’s path to getting her groove back as she reinvents her creative outlets. Meanwhile, the bills and rent are stacking up.

The Forty-Year-Old Version is how the character of Radha is coming back into herself, rebuilding her confidence and discovering how far she will allow her art to be hijacked for commodity-sake. It’s the classic devil-and-angel scenario for any artist or writer who watches their work drown in a sea of notes, other parties’ POV foisted upon her original vision. Artists gotta eat, but artists also have to fight for their intentions to remain true.

Especially when the gulf of race—and to some extent, class—comes into play. Well-heeled, overly obsequious arts patrons—Jewish and WASP—love to discover and fete “the next big thing” in the performing arts. That incestuous little enclave of rich woke Caucasians have, thanks to Radha’s ambitious agent and high school best buddy Archie (Peter Kim), found her play, Harlem Ave. Now Radha’s luck has turned with the right production company, life seems to be on easy street once again for a playwright who was A “30 under 30” spotlight pick back in the day.

Nope. The hilarious Greek chorus of neighborhood voices—a homeless man who keeps track of Radha’s love life and a cheeky crone who makes every observation of Radha’s ostensible failings all about her—are the fuel to keep Radha thinking it through as she comes to grips with the unwanted advice and creative intrusions of white directors, producers and others who want to add elements to her play that will “play” to white audiences.

That combined with a fortuitous meeting with a gifted beat maker known as D (Oswin Benjamin) has ignited a lost love of rhyming and rapping, something Radha does with great flourish and style. Loneliness and longing combined with the sheer force of her affable personality and tenacity, why an unlikely and welcomed love story emerges for our heroine in this tale.

The film reveals the many facets of Radha’s life. Her beloved artist mother Carol’s passing and dealing with her brother, and teaching her group of riotous kids who are budding playwrights themselves. They are a motley crew of energetic souls and the outlet for her maternal instincts as she tries to impart some world weary and wise guidance. You can see that they love her and cheer her on at every step of her rebirth to esteemed notable player in the arts, once again.

There’s a lot of story to unpack with The 40 Year Old Version, there were moments I felt I was watching a modern-day version of Pygmalion, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and a cute-meet classic romcom rolled up into one very real, existential female snapshot dealing with aging, grieving a loved one and learning to reinvent your own life script.

Radha Blank’s film is profoundly touching, funny and heartwarming. The surprise of the film, 40 Year Old Version is that of Radha herself, her talent as an actor with subtle and strong comedic chops is no easy feat. We root for her cinematic character, Radha, and fall in love with her as she fights for her vision of what her play, Harlem Ave. truly represents.

Filmmaker Radha Blank’s gifted DP Eric Branco delivers an evocative lensed palette of sepia and noir that sells us the veracity of New York City life and survival as we unfold this personal journey with Radha, cheering her wins and pulling for her all along the way.

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April Neale

April Neale is an entertainment writer and television critic. Neale has read her work both on NPR and 'Spoken Interludes', and has previously written for various industry trades and entertainment websites. Neale has written for Monsters and Critics since 2003, and is an editor and main contributor to the TV, Film and Culture (formerly Lifestyle) sections.