Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sundance with Abe: The 40-Year-Old Version

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

The 40-Year-Old Version
Directed by Radha Blank
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Art gives people the opportunity to share their experiences and worldviews. What isn’t always possible for everyone, however, is the access to a wider audience to broadcast that message and perspective. In some cases, a person with great creativity and vision may only be able to get their work out into the world with the help of someone who has the resources to do it but insists on changes to make it more palatable and widely relatable. That process can serve to corrupt the original intent, making the value of its production questionable.

Radha (Radha Blank) is fast approaching forty, and she isn’t where she wanted to be. She is teaching drama at a school while trying hard to stage a production of her latest play about Harlem. With the help of her loyal manager and lifelong friend Archie (Peter Y. Kim), her play is set to be put on by a wealthy white producer (Reed Birney) who wants to ensure that her story of a black community facing gentrification includes white faces so that the audience can relate. Upset about its direction, she considers a return to rapping, putting the words she writes so well to rhyme and attempting to express herself as everything becomes too much to bear.

While this film features an instance of pure, honest work being turned into something that looks nothing like it, the overall project here is filled with a genuine sincerity. Blank, who serves as writer, director, and star, brings her signature personality to this formidable character, a woman with many strengths who is all too susceptible to being brought down by a taunt from one of her students or a disparaging comment from someone who thinks she hasn’t gotten anywhere in her life. When she meets D (Oswin Benjamin), an artist set to provide her with a beat for her raps, she is opened up to a new way of thinking, one that will begin to guide her towards a place of more self-worth.

This film makes excellent use of black-and-white cinematography to frame its story, which Blank describes as her love letter to New York City. It feels in many ways like a classic New York movie, one that lives and breathes the streets of the city without always explicitly referencing or emphasizing where a given scene takes place. This film is wondrously fresh, totally committed to its main character, no matter where she may end up going. Blank is a marvel, and this astounding debut behind the camera should be a sign of many great things to come for the multi-talented artist.


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