Playwright Radha Black makes an excellent feature film debut in Netflix’s The Forty-Year-Old Version. Black portrays Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. She’s currently writing a new play titled Harlem Ave., which she hopes will be her breakthrough.
However, the playwright finds herself constantly re-writing to appease a mainstream audience. One of the things that Black script successfully navigates is staying true to yourself for wider success and funds or staying in the indie route. The critical figure is J. Whitman (Reed Birney), a producer who may or may not know what’s best for Radha.
Naturally, she foils what seems like her last shot at success; she’s left with no choice but to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime. The film follows Radha as she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater on a quest to find her authentic voice.
Walking into the film, I was unaware of Black’s work, and I think that’s what helped with my general enjoyment of the film. Upon my research of the playwright, I discovered that the film is somewhat semi-autobiographical. Similar to her real-life character, the Radha on screen was a recipient of the 30 Under 30 award, a prestigious theater award. Ten years later, though, Radha has yet to name herself and is now a financially struggling drama teacher.
After working on the streaming giants’ series, She’s Gotta Have It Blank, already had a successful relationship working with Netflix. Similar to Spike Lee’s debut, the film is shot in black & white and looks great. I also give Black credit for her believable rapping skills.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is a relatable film for anyone who feels they have reached their full potential.
The late John Hughes once wrote, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” For me, that means never miss an opportunity to try something new.
Final Grade B+
The Forty-Year-Old Version is available to stream now on Netflix