Netflix’s ‘The 40-Year-Old Version,’ is a semi-autobiographical flick which New York native Radha Blank wrote, directed, produced, and starred in. It revolves around a struggling author who finds a new break for her creativity in rapping.
She was once a rising star on the theatre fuss, one of those be knighted 30-Under-30 types whose bright early displays of talent were supposed to lead to a promising, enduring career. (Even though, as many know, such a career is by no means promised.) It certainly did not pave out that way for Radha, who’s no longer an “under 30” but rather a straight-up, sullen 40-year-old whose main claim to fame is still that prize from a decade ago.
The Forty-Year-Old Version Plot Synopsis
Radha was once a promising author, even won a 30-under-30 Award. But those days are long lost to her, and she is gradually vanishing into vagueness. Despite the best efforts of her agent and childhood friend Archie (Peter Kim), none of her pieces has been staged in recent years. She has accepted a position as a playwriting instructor at a local school. Response to her instruction and authority varies from one student to another. While some worship the very ground she walks on, others are more aggressive, having read all about her career on the internet. There is even one who wants to sleep with her.Image: Netflix
Archie manages a meeting between her and a renowned theatre producer Josh Whitman (Reed Birney), at a party. Although she is hesitant at first, she eventually gives in. During their conversation, her play, ‘Harlem Ave,’ finally comes up. Whitman says that the play feels inauthentic and even goes on to tell her that he questioned at times whether a black person wrote it. After he informs her that he is looking for a writer for his Harriet Tubman musical, she attacks him.
Frustrated and discouraged, Radha finds a different creative break – rapping. She quickly discovers that she can channel her writer credentials into writing verses. Through social media, she finds a producer in Brownsville whose beats she likes and goes to meet him. The young producer, D (Oswin Benjamin), is impressed by her compelling verses.
In time, a relationship begins to develop between the two. This is when the theatre world comes calling again. Archie informs her that he has somehow influenced Whitman to forgive her for the attack and produce the play.
The Forty-Year-Old Version Ending
With the help of D, Radha starts to investigate the growing counterculture that exists around rap. But her first time on stage ends in a tragedy. She then decides to go back to what is familiar to her. She accepts the reforms that Whitman wants to add to her play and starts working on the production. She initially needed a black director to helm the project but is told that no one is available. Bit by bit, these small changes pile up, and soon enough, the play is so different from the original that she can’t even declare that she wrote it.RADHA BLANK (WRITER, DIRECTOR) as RADHA, ERIC BRANCO (CINEMATOGRAPHER) in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VERSION.
A subplot in the film involves her recently departed mother and how she is coping with pain. She ignores many calls from her brother to visit her mother’s residence so that they can go by her belongings together. Eventually, she does gather enough courage to face her sense of grief, and in turn, is rewarded with a moment of release.
Right before the opening night, she and Archie have a huge fight. She again complains to him about the reforms brought to her play by Whitman, and he reveals that he had to have a sexual contact with the much-older theatre producer for him even to consider working with Radha again. Radha announces that she will not be going to the performance of the play.
The Opening Night
In the hours driving to the premiere, Radha considers her options. She has this funny conversation with the wandering man who lives on the track across from her apartment. He tells her harshly that he is not some former professional who can give her advice at this crucial point in her life. Ultimately, she does decide to go, although she never enters the auditorium. Her students, brother, and Archie are present in the audience. The play is a hit. When she is called on the stage to greet the audience, she decides to speak her mind.
She says that every author is fearful that they would write something as horrible as this (indicating the play). She states that since her mother’s death, she has become upset, acknowledging that she has turned into a sell-out.
She then starts rapping in a way that claims back her space, creativity, and courage. Just before she leaves, Radha and Archie part ways. The movie ends with her going back to D’s home. It is indicated that she will continue pursuing music.
Is The Forty-Year-Old Version Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ is based on a true story. It’s a semi-autobiographical movie based on Blank’s own life. Besides writing, directing, and playing herself in the film, she is one of its producers.
On October 9, 2020, ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ dropped on Netflix. The film has received widespread acclaim from the critics, with many praising Blank’s vision and her peculiar brand of humour that oscillates between self-deprecation and irony. The film is more or less the real story of at least a part of her career. The genuine Radha Blank has also been active in the theatre scene for several years and is still to achieve heights of success. Her last production, ‘Seed,’ premiered in 2011 at National Black Theatre in New York.
In the film, the fictional Radha is dealing with her mother’s passing. This is also an example of reel imitating real. According to Blank, she and her brother were raised “around artists” in an “intentional artist community.” Her dad was a jazz drummer honouring from a family of musicians, while her mother was a painter.
‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ was initially meant to be a web series with ten episodes, but Blank halted the production after her mother passed away.
Like any other filmmaker, Blank took creative liberties while writing some plot points and scenes in the film. As she explains, “I have not choked a theatre producer… yet. Just like I’ve never won a 30 under 30 award, and I’ve not had a relationship specifically with a hip-hop producer in his 20s from Brownsville. But that character [D, portrayed by Oswin Benjamin] is an amalgam of a lot of people I’ve dated, people I’ve met in music, and I tend to skew younger, so that part is true.”
At the end of the story, Radha somehow finds herself.! and even in real life that’s what matters right? The Forty-Year Old Version is now streaming on Netflix with 6.7/10 rating on IMDb and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
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