The Forty-Year-Old Version

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Forty-Year-Old Version Movie Poster Image
Black playwright strives to be true to herself; language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 129 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Be true to yourself, whatever that may mean.

Positive Role Models

Radha wants her work to reflect the truth, however unpleasant that truth may be, so she rejects any success that may come with being inauthentic. Diverse characters.

Violence

An unhoused person empties his bowels on the street. An angry playwright tries to strangle a producer. Blank's mother died a year before the action starts.

Sex

Radha and D make love, with clothes on, in a darkened room. A woman casually mentions masturbating. A gay man says he had a sexual encounter with a producer.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," d--k," "c--t," "clit," "t-ts," "bitch," "dyke,"  "ass," "vagina," "balls," "suck," "fart," "butt,"  "masturbate," "hell," "damn," "slut," "hoes," and the "N" word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke marijuana. Crack is mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Forty-Year-Old Version is writer Radha Blank's semi-autobiographical film about a talented Black artist trying to make it in the New York theater world while maintaining her integrity and not giving in to the commercial pressures that might compromise the truth of her work. The material is adult and sophisticated. Blank plays herself, lending authenticity to the venture. She turns her sharp humor equally against political correctness and herself. Adults have sex fully clothed and in a darkened room. Cursing is heard throughout, including "f--k," "s--t," d--k," "c--t," "clit," "t-ts," "bitch," "dyke,"  "ass," "vagina," "balls," "suck," "fart," "butt," "masturbate," "hell," "damn," "slut," "hoes," and the "N" word. Adults smoke marijuana. Crack is mentioned. An unhoused person empties his bowels on the street. An angry playwright tries to strangle a producer.

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What's the story?

Radha Blank, playing herself, is struggling to live up to the 30-Under 30 award she won ten years back when she wrote a play that got some attention. Now approaching the Big Four-Oh, she’s figuring out how THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION of herself can remain vital and relevant. To make ends meet, she teaches theater to high school students in Harlem as she struggles to get her work produced with the help of her best friend and agent Archie (Peter Kim). When the only producer interested is a pretentious white guy (Reed Birney) who values commerce over art, she turns to rapping to find her authentic self, then drops it without much of a try until a young musician named D (Oswin Benjamin) persuades her otherwise.

Is it any good?

Radha Blank, director, writer, and lead actor of this semi-autobiographical movie, is so endearing, brainy, funny, and likable that it hurts to find fault with her effort. Casting is perfect, with great performances, especially by Oswin Benjamin and Peter Kim. Blank's written numerous plays and for TV's Empire and the Netflix show She's Gotta Have It. The Forty-Year-Old Version is soaked with her talent and poise and her underlying sense of irony and justice, all of which makes one grateful for the way this spills over with ideas at a time when lots of movies offer none. She expertly captures the gritty everyday difficulties of a striving New York artist in an expensive city, needing to teach to make a living and to defang sharp work to appeal to a wealthy white theater audience. She gently mocks politically-correct trends in the arts, as an all-female production of 12 Angry Men and an integrated cast for the all-Black play Fences.

Some of the ideas here come into conflict with each other, signaling a complex intelligence at work, and some don't get where they ought to go, but at least Blank is trying, aspiring to be true to some ideal, even if she may not yet have figured out what that ideal might be. These are good problems to have.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be true to oneself. Why does Radha seemingly reject success?

  • Why do you think Radha doesn't call her brother back? Why do you think different people deal with grief in different ways?

  • What does The Forty-Year-Old Version try to say about the dilemma of being an artist?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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