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Review: 'The Forty-Year-Old Version' well worth the wait

Netflix title about a struggling NY playwright is one of the year's best surprises

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Radha Blank writes, directs, produces and stars in "The Forty-Year-Old Version," and if she had the time, she probably would have edited it, too. 

This is a rousing coming out party for the multi-talented Blank, who pours her heart and soul into this comic comeback story-underdog tale about dreams, goals, perseverance and the power of art as a means of expression. Blank is a fresh voice with a clear vision, and "The Forty-Year-Old Version" is one of the year's great surprises. 

Radha Blank in "The Forty-Year-Old Version."

Blank plays a version of herself as Radha, a playwright approaching 40 whose career stalled after she was named to a prominent 30 under 30 list a decade ago. Now she teaches drama to high school students, but the recent loss of her mother has her wondering about her own life and her unfulfilled career hopes. 

Her friend Archie (Peter Kim) puts her in contact with a producer who greenlights her latest play, a story about gentrification called "Harlem Ave." She funnels her frustrations over the dumbing down of her work — the compromises she needs to make in order to see her play through, including the hiring of a white director to tell her story — into a side-hustle as a rapper, and she hooks up with a producer named D (Oswin Benjamin) who is inspired by her authenticity. 

What emerges is a distinctly New York story — "Version" is a gushing love letter to the Big Apple — as well as a funny, refreshing, honest look at a life rarely presented in this fashion on screen.

Blank's voice, accentuated by the lovely-gritty black-and-white photography, comes through the screen, as does the struggle her story embodies. "The Forty-Year-Old Version" is a cause for celebration, better late than never. Stand up and cheer. 

'The Forty-Year-Old Version'

GRADE: A-

Rated R: for pervasive language, sexual content, some drug use and brief nudity

Running time: 129 minutes

On Netflix

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama