The big 4-0, no longer young, but now middle age. Radha Blank has dropped on Netflix a sensational new autobiographical movie. It talks art, NYC, being black, being a woman and getting older. That’s a lot of shit! Enough to weigh down any show. Instead Radha persists, perseveres and pushes on through. Her movie is profane, at times poignant, at others embarrassing, but always engrossing. And as stellar is her performance, writing and directing, the accompanying ensemble cast is even more radiant. You must watch this amazing new work.
Turning forty, Radha was once herald as the next new thing and one of thirty-under-thirty to lookout for. Once a promising young playwright, she hasn’t done anything new in ten-years and now makes rent by teaching a high school drama class. This Greek chorus of youths offers her no praise either. Her agent, her only booster, her gay Korean high school alum keeps pushing her to workshop, collaborate, sellout, but she is ambivalent. There is a lot to unpack in this movie.
She eventually relents creating a play within a play. This work competes with a foray into hip-hop, showing that even at forty, she is still trying to define herself. She is pretty good at it too. These major plot elements are leavened with a series of one-off characters, like a bus driver, a homeless man and an old lady that depart from the main storyline, but adds a running commentary on Radha’s life.
Shot in black and white, this movie pays homage to its NYC predecessors, like She’s Gotta Have It and Manhattan and its titular Judd Apatow reference. Like that reference, Version keeps raising themes that whites, men and/or the young might be more comfortable with, before casting them aside, but this is Radha’s story and she’s got to be keeping it real. This movie offers a funny, moving and novel glimpse at a world few Netflix viewers will ever see. An inner city world, but also a world devoid of poverty porn. A real world that features real people. People you might see on the street, but never meet. Yo, yo-yo, watch it. I’m out.