The ’40 Year Old Version’ Hit Pretty Close To Home

My latest date with Netflix introduced me to The 40 Year Old Version, a semi-autobiographical black & white film about an unfulfilled, just shy of 40 year-old, playwright. Although it sounds corny, even a bit pathetic, she revisits a former love of hers, freestyle hip-hop, and makes the preliminary moves to make a mixtape. The audience really then takes a fly-on-the-wall position to witness all of this. In spite of the trailer, the film doesn’t follow the nice predictable curve of most comedy movies.

There are so many incredible reviews on this film, so I’m not going to rehash that. But I will say that when you initially watch this film, you get the knee-jerk reaction to underestimate it. I mean, it is categorized as a comedy. But I never felt the urge to let out any belly laughs. If anything, it was that nervous laughter that prevailed. Like, the laugh you make when your toddler interrupts you in the middle of a Zoom meeting. So a big kudos to Radha Blank for putting herself out there, and taking one for the team on this.

Radha Blank (right) just such an amazing job at demonstrating the compromises that Black women make in middle age

It is not until the film ends that you are like, “Oh my God — I didn’t sign up for this”. It’s like you were expecting a rag-to-riches kind of film – à la Creed, but what you get (or at least what I got) is a mirror back on yourself. Here’s what my big take-aways were:

1. Your Pathway Through Life Can Be Unpredictable

When I was growing up, I was always at the top of my class. It was like this unspoken fact that I was going to grow up to be something spectacular. And while I am not an utter failure, I will say that I haven’t had a charmed life by any means. And many of my classmates and family members have out shone me in adulthood. Radha’s experience echos mine. You get accolades early in life and you expect to sail on those for ever. Truth is, they don’t mean squat unless you continue on a certain trajectory. If you sputter or deviate, then the impetus is all but gone. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be striving for acclaim. Just keep in in perspective.

2. Age Is More Than a Number

Since this is my blog, I’ll allow myself to be a tad bit snobbish here, but I honesty had a tough time buying that Radha wasn’t even 40 in this film. I mean, it was probably the Aunt Jemima headwrap….you think?

But even more than her appearance that prematurely ages her. The mindset of “Oh, I’m 40. This is what I need to be doing. My life should look like this. This is how I should dress” does it even more so. And it’s frustrating. It is frustrating to see her express it on screen and it is frustrating to see just how much of this BS we manifest in ourselves. I love how her 26 year-old DJ is positioned as one of the most insightful and mature characters in the film. As sparks fly between them it doesn’t feel like she’s robbing the cradle, but rather has a man in her life that truly appreciates her. Which, for many of us Black women, is a start.

3. Don’t Let Others Define You

While Radha had talent in writing, she lacked the means and the tenacity to really put her foot down and not compromise her voice. And I get it — she had to pay her rent (which she even said, verbatim, in the film). And it sucks. I get that too. So many times I took employment not because it was a good career move, but because it paid the bills. Even so, you can’t let that kill your inner dreams. You can’t ever fully give up on them.

Another tough subject was addressed in this film — which was growing up in the shadows of your family….especially your parents. Radha reveals that her mother was an artist. She had dreams of greatness, and they never came to fruition. So of course, she has to succeed. The truth is, parents have this miraculous ability to find something in their children to be proud of. Rather if they win the Nobel Prize or if they can walk and chew gum at the same time. The crippling fear of having your parents approve of your life choices is overrated. If you do happen to have the type of parents who would disown you if earn Cs in college, then you are better off without them and their toxic energy anyway.

4. Real Adult Friendship is Powerful

Radha’s agent in the film is a gay Korean man named Archie. As the movie progresses, you’ll discover that the two have been friends since high school — and Radha even served as Archie’s prom date since he was in the closet. But the professional and friendship lines get crossed. While mistakes are made on both sides, it is pretty clear that Radha takes the relationship for granted. That she can say and do whatever and Archie will still be there as a sounding board or support stand. Again, painful to watch because we’ve all been there — on one side or the other. You can also see just how rare and special true friendship between adults is. And even when you are ‘great’ friends, there are just some things that your friends will not understand about you. That is totally normal and ok though.

5. The Generation Gaps are BS

Initially I thought that the screentime dedicated to Radha’s students was a bit superfluous. I mean, they were there to contrast against Radha’s age and show just how old and unhip she was, right? Well, not quite. In spite of being the disrespectful little pricks they are shown to be in the trailer, turns out they are her biggest cheerleaders.

When I look back at some of the great teachers I had, they were the ones who somehow communicated that they learned from us as well as taught us. I say this as a 40-something woman myself; it is not always easy to stay up to date on the latest and greatest trends. But that is what consumes the daily lives of young(er) people. You don’t have to like it…and please, for the love of God, don’t take it on as your own. But respect it. Wisdom comes from all ages. Good and bad people are present in all ages as well. The sooner that we can learn to appreciate and learn from each other, the better off we all will be.

So for all of the awkward, 40-something Black girls out there, whose lives didn’t quite pan out to be Cinderella stories, there is finally a film out there for us now!