In the current wasteland of barely mediocre movie theater releases, I'm happy to say I recently watched a new release in my home (on Netflix) that's one of the best I've seen all year.
A struggling, black, woman playwright in Harlem yearns for the recognition and support she once had as a promising 30-year-old. So she tries to salvage her artistic voice by becoming a rapper at 40 years old and exploring the hip-hop scene of New York City. Written, directed, and starring Radha Blank (a first-time filmmaker and accomplished NYC playwright), The Forty-Year-Old Version is a heightened autobiographical story about how it feels to be an artist and creator today. Achieving personal artistic expression without being a sellout and black voices expressing honest feelings on racism and gentrification that mustn't disrupt the white (i.e., sheltered) status quo. It's a tricky balancing act, and this film captures the frustrations of such impossible balancing acts with insight and confidence.
The Forty-Year-Old Version felt like one half raw documentary and one half intimate character study set against the background of a gritty, black and white, diverse, and hilarious New York City. Written brilliantly with understated humor and a universal (but still unique) passion, this film will inspire all viewers to embrace their own voice no matter their age, background, or skin color.
Radha Blank wrote this screenplay as part of the 2017 Sundance screenwriters lab, and the completed film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. Thank you to Sundance for continuing their work to keep independent film alive.
A different and singular story is so rare in film this year. But when you find a gem like this, it feels great. The wasteland doesn't seem so endless after all.