Netflix Just Dropped One Of The Best Movies Of The Year — With A Breakout Star You Need To Know

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
Photo: Courtesy of JEONG PARK/NETFLIX.
What's Good: The Forty-Year-Old Version on Netflix
Who It’s Good For: It would be easy to say that this movie is specifically for 40-year-old Black women because of its title and star (Radha Blank, who also wrote and directed the film, and co-produced it with Lena Waithe), and it is, but its specificity also makes it universal. Blank’s character’s creative struggle — she plays a struggling playwright— will resonate with any artist who’s ever been stuck in a rut. Her tumultuous yet tender relationship with her best friend, Archie (Peter Kim) will hit for anyone who has stayed close with their high school BFFs, and her longing for Black stories that don’t rely on trauma or “poverty porn” is one I think most consumers of Black art can agree with. The Forty-Year-Old Version has the style of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, the underdog charm of 8 Mile, and the cutting social commentary of Sorry To Bother You. Bottom line: This film is for anyone with taste.
How Good Is It? I’m going to be yelling about how good this movie is for a long time. It’s sharp, funny, unique, and delightful, relying heavily on the talents of its lead. And Blank (on screen and in real life) is very talented. Movie Radha is an almost-40-year-old playwright who was once on a 30 under 30 list. That honour now haunts her. She’s coming off her mother’s death and grappling with what it means to be a woman of a certain age trying to stay relevant in the entertainment industry. Her day job doesn’t help much on the money front — she’s teaching young people how to write plays, and while some of them respect her, she also has to deal with being called washed up and past her prime. She decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime (yes, like the transformer), a rapper who spits rhymes like “Yo, where my damn house keys? Why my lower legs hurt? Sciatica lock legs like Attica.” 
We rarely get to hear women Radha’s age, especially Black women, share their stories on screen, let alone in hip-hop, so every reference to her middle-aged struggles is refreshing and radical. It’s a reminder that our worth never expires and I, for one, needed that message. Even though I’m nowhere near 40 (I’m so young), it’s comforting to be assured that everyone’s professional journey is their own — fuck convention. 
Radha is also dealing with the challenges Black women face trying to get their art made in the entertainment industry. Before she establishes herself as a rapper, a hot shot white producer (Reed Birney) denigrates her new play by questioning its authenticity. When her BFF Archie, also her agent, convinces her to make some compromises in order to get her play made, the movie goes from enchanting comedy to seering satire. A script about a Black couple owning a bodega in Harlem is suddenly amended to include a white character. Radha has to decide between selling her soul or paying her rent. How many Black artists have had to make that choice? 
Through her new life venture, Radha meets D (the quietly disarming Oswin Benjamin), a beatmaker who becomes a surprising love interest. At every turn, The Forty-Year-Old Version gives us a fresh take on a coming-of-age story (as The New York Times put it, “self-discovery doesn’t have an age limit”) — from desire to ambition and everything in between. 
In an industry that already discards and ignores Black women, Radha Blank is breaking through with a remarkable piece of art that is impossible to disregard. It’s too good.
Things that are also good:
• Sweater weather (but like, a light chill — nothing colder)
• FINE, I’ll concede that The Boys is as good as everyone says it is. I’m trying to catch up before someone spoils the big cliffhanger the second season supposedly ended on
•  Bill Burr on white women
•  Bend It Like Beckham is on Disney+ and it’s just as good as you remember
• Not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving with family because of COVID is not good, but spending some time being grateful for what you do have anyway is very good
•  Defunding the police

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