Another late night tonight as I couldn’t get my head into a movie until late. Tonight I further complicated things by picking a movie in excess of two hours, but it was at least on my list and I knew where it was so I didn’t have to repeat the last two night’s struggle of trying to find a Black helmed film.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020, Dir. Radha Blank)
Watching The Forty-Year-Old Version, I kept thinking of Spike Lee’s first feature She’s Gotta Have It (1986), and low and behold writer, director, and star Radha Blank produced 2019 TV Series of the same name. Knowing that the influence is likely intentional, helps to clarify my thoughts on the film. Blank is a wonderfully talented creative, but at times the talent needs another voice to reign it in. At a hair over two hours, the film feels a bit overstuffed for the content (something that also frequently plagues Lee). Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed 90% of this film, that just makes the last 10% all the more tragic.
Blank is a brilliant creator, and her fingerprints are all over the film. Not only did she write, direct, and star in the film, but the film feels especially personal given that she shares a name with her character (for clarity I’ll be using Radha to talk about the character and Blank to talk about the person). Writing her character as a playwright allows Blank to take many artistic flourishes with the film. While the film is shot in black and white, it includes quick slideshow-esque cuts to explain Radha’s thoughts.
Another example of Blanks artistic flare is her depiction of the white characters involved in the making and watching of her play. They are portrayed as awful. This was distracting for most of the film, but eventually I think the purpose unlocked for me. Much like Radha’s initial rap, it’s not supposed to be a realistic depiction, but rather a comment on white people’s tendency to fetishize Black suffering. The decision is another example of Blank’s significant talent but also of the film’s need for a second set of eyes.