The days are all the same for Radha Blank, protagonist of Netflix’s clever comedy-drama The Forty-Year-Old Version. The playwright who once won Playwright magazine’s 30 Under 30 starts off the film by running late to her teaching day job. Everything is conspiring against her: she barely catches her bus, and then it’s frustratingly slow, with a disabled person seemingly waiting at every bus stop to slow her progress. When she asks the driver if she can get off the bus before he helps the disabled passengers on, he loudly rebukes her for her supposed selfishness.
The sardonic scene might as well be ripped from Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, except this comedy is far less misanthropic. Instead The Forty-Year-Old Version — which marks the real Radha Blank’s debut feature as a screenwriter, actor, and director — finds her self-named character searching for success in the face of white gatekeepers. By lampooning New York’s theater scene, with The Forty-Year-Old Version, Blank inventively offers a crisp analysis of the struggles older Black women creators face.
Blank appropriates the title of Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and her lonely, sardonic character Radha does complement Apatow’s adrift protagonists. Radha is still grieving the death of her artistic mother, refusing to visit her apartment or sort out her possessions a year later, even though her brother routinely leaves her unanswered voicemails asking her to help out. Radha also lives a solitary life. Even the rowdy homeless man across the street from her apartment, one of the film’s many comic-relief elements, chides her for her absent sex life. But most of all, Radha can’t comprehend how her artistic career has evaporated since her early, promising days.
She supplements her income by teaching drama. Her classroom scenes are