The 40-Year-Old Version is the latest Netflix original film, and it’s the best one they’ve released so far this year and all-time period. I loved this film. It instantly jumped to #6 in my top 10 of the year, and I can’t wait to watch it again. This is a film I’ve had my eye on since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award. The reviews for this have been incredible as it currently rocks a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes of 87 reviews as of this writing, and I have to say it lived up to all the expectations I had for it. I was not let down one bit by this incredible feature.
The film follows Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright who is teaching high school. She’s desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she alternates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater to find her authentic voice.
The film is written, directed, and produced by Radha Blank in her directorial debut. She also plays the lead role, and wow, she deserves all the praise she gets because her script is a powerful, intelligent, funny, and inspiring look at an artist’s struggle. She also showed a great appreciation for the female MC, with a scene that is all about these derby talented female MCs battle rapping. I loved the attention she gave to that.
She delivered a film that resonated with me, being from New York myself and what would be considered “the hood.” She directs the film very well, although you can tell in some areas that this was her first time behind the camera on a feature. There is still a lot of promise there in regards to her camera work. I loved her choice to make the film black and white. It gave the film a 90s New York indie film vibe to it.
I am looking forward to seeing what she does next because this was a great debut, and I feel she’s a triple threat to see more great things from. This, to me, came off like a do it yourself project where she made sure to write herself a significant part because for as talented as she is, this is the first I’ve ever heard of her.
Directing was the least essential aspect because her script was extraordinary, and her acting was superb. I feel her performance is Oscar-worthy, although I know Netflix won’t run a campaign for her, and I think the film is too low key for their taste. However, I could see and hope she does get some love from the Independent Spirit Awards for her script and acting. This being her first film, I could see her win the award they give for the first films. Her rhymes were so smooth and poetic.
I’m a big fan of storytelling rapping, so I loved the scenes where her character raps. The project seems very autobiographical and personal to her, and you can sense it in her performance. It’s very layered, and I loved how she portrayed the struggles of not being satisfied with your place in life, especially when you have a milestone birthday coming up such as the 4-0.
Peter Kim, who plays Archie, her gay Korean agent, was great. In the film, we learn that back in high school, while he was still in the closet, Radha was his date for prom protecting his secret. You sense there’s this loyalty between them because of that favor, and he genuinely cares for her, although he dismisses her wanting to pursue a rap career, feeling it’s like a midlife crisis. He fights for her to get her what he’s worked all her life for. I won’t spoil it, but he does something for her to get her a shot. That’s what a real friend does.
I may be biased a bit because I know her, and we grew up in the same neighborhood, but from the students, the standout for me was Haskiri Velazquez. I feel out of all the students; her character was the most fleshed out. She plays Rosa, who is gender non-conforming, and I loved the portrayal because you rarely see a gender non confirming name accepted in film or TV. Not a single character said anything negative about her in the movie, and I loved it because it felt fresh and new. I also think she played the role very well. It never came off like she was portraying it stereotypically. I can’t wait to see her career blossom and see her play Daisy in the Saved By The Bell reboot.
Another actor I want to praise is Oswin Benjamin, who plays D, the producer who beats for Radha. I like his character a lot because he had some excellent character development. When he first appeared, I didn’t think much of him. But he turned out to be more critical than I expected, and beyond just being a producer.
I highly recommend this film. This is a film about never being too old to follow your dreams or reinvent yourself—a feel-good movie that will make you smile, laugh, and think about life.