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The Forty-Year-Old Version (Rhanda Blank, 2020)

Wait — a film directed by a woman of colour? Who also wrote, produced and starred?

And utterly charming it is in a try not to think too much about Woody Allen way.

Blank (Blank) is a New York-based playwright, who a decade ago was a 30 playwrights under 30 to be watched — and now is struggling to get a rehearsed reading in an experimental Black theatre as she stares forty down the barrel. Her friend and agent from her schooldays, Archie (Peter Kim) might be able to get her new play, Harlem Ave., produced in a regional premiere, but she might have to make some compromises to her artistic vision. Meanwhile, she is pondering turning to rap and to an aloof but talented DJ, D (Oswin Benjamin), some fourteen years her junior.

We see various parts of New York — Brooklyn, the Bronx etc. — in a glorious, grainy, blank and white, with judicious use of colour. Both Black culture and stereotypes about Black culture are skewered, with Blank in the running to write the lyrics for a Harriet Tubman musical at one point — Blank the playwright rails against poverty porn, whilst a homeless man has a spot-on speech about not being a magical negro.

Blank, meanwhile, is an object of interest for at least two men around two decades her junior — just as Woody Allen was in his angst-ridden Manhattan. It works because of the gender reversal, because Blank allows herself to be ridiculous — and because it gives us a very funny sex scene.

The film creeps over the two-hour mark, in part because it takes a turn towards the serious — we finally meet Rhanda’s brother and learn about her parents, and the culture they had produced. It earns this moment, but frankly I was happy to spend two hours plus in this company.

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