de facto film reviews 2 stars

The title is obviously a play on the Steve Carrell starring film from 2005 and it does share some of the same elements of comedy, but the similarities end there. The title of the film also comes from a line that our main character Radha—whom is playing a version of herself in the film—raps at a critical point in the movie. Rapping is one of the key components of this film, but Radha is also an intellectual playwright—a playwright that was celebrated with a ‘30 under 30’ award at one point in her life, but she hasn’t been able to conjure up living up to that moniker of success since. Closing in on 40 years of age, she is now a teacher in what appears to be a community college, the students at the school are my favorite part of this movie with their wild behavior and tight bond with their teacher Ms. B. Searching for a path to go in her life, she comes upon the idea of becoming a rapper. And rapping becomes something that speaks to her soul and it also provides an opportunity for potential romance which could bring some color back into her black and white existence on the urban streets of New York City. Throughout much of the film, Radha is dressed raggedy, and wears a headscarf, it isn’t until the final act that we get to see her dressed to the nines. I’m guessing this wardrobe aesthetic is to key us, and her, into how Radha has “changed”—literally. Can anyone say “obvious symbolism”?

This film seems to be capitalizing on this cultural moment in film history where diversity is being celebrated for the very first time, I think that this is something that works against the film cause it just feels like it is being shoved in my face and comes off like they are trying too hard to show diversity with its representation. But I can’t blame a girl for trying. Personally speaking, as an Asian-American growing up in America, and for the most part only seeing Caucasian people reflected back at me on screen, it can do something to a person’s psyche. But the bottom line is that trends are trendy, and being trendy is lame.

Radha Blank's The Forty-Year-Old Version, About a Playwright-Turned-Rapper, Arrives on Netflix October 9 | Playbill

But that’s not to take away from Radha Blank’s first time effort as a director. Blank as an actor does have a gift for comic timing, the little ticks and subtle exclamations she provides with her facial expressions could rival any Charlie Chaplin film. Along with being the lead of the film, she also helms the credits of producer and writer on top of directing—which even just one of those titles alone is a lot to handle on a film set. And that could be why maybe the film doesn’t work that well for me, Ms. Blank may have just been wearing too many hats for a first time filmmaker, either something she wanted to take on, or something that was for practical reasons. But that doesn’t mean that the expression that Radha is giving doesn’t have value for herself or for someone else out there that may need this type of expression expressed upon them.

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen this story before, about a pushing-40-year-old, heavier set, African American woman, that was a one-hit-wonder-playwright-cum-wannabe-rap-god, but despite its unique sensibilities, it still just seems like a basic by the numbers story that is giving a beat by beat predictable outcome—which is quite a shame since this film does have potential.

The Forty-Year-Old Version Trailer Previews Director Radha Blank Netflix Debut | Collider