Radha Blank creates triumph from failure in ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’

Radha Blank
Writer/director/actor/producer Radha Blank of “The 40-Year-Old Version,” in the L.A. Times Studio at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen and welcome to the newsletter companion to “The Envelope: The Podcast,” where my cohost Yvonne Villarreal and I bring you highlights from each week’s episode.

This week, I spoke to Radha Blank, writer, director and star of “The Forty-Year-Old Version.” Blank won the best director prize when the film premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival. The 2020 edition of Sundance produced a large crop of titles vying for attention in the current awards race, including work from other upcoming guests on “The Envelope” podcast: Lee Isaac Chung, director of “Minari” and Garrett Bradley, director of “Time.”

The 2021 edition of Sundance, running from January 28 to February 3, will be quite different than other years due to the pandemic. Audiences from all over the country and even the globe will be able to participate in ways they never have before. I recently wrote a brief how-to guide explaining some of the ways people can buy tickets for premieres, watch movies within flexible time windows or even watch free talks and events.

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is a genuine tour de force for Blank. Capturing New York City in vibrant black and white, the film is a portrait of artistic struggle and survival and how finally finding your own voice can come in the most unexpected ways.

And she plays a character named Radha Blank. In our interview, she talked about giving the character her own name, following in the footsteps of artists such as Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Lena Dunham and Cheryl Dunye.

Radha Blank.
Writer-director-star Radha Blank, behind the scenes of ‘The Forty-Year-Old-Version.’
(Jeong Park / NETFLIX)

“I just wanted to tell this story and use my experience as an avatar for what I feel like many people have gone through. It just was never a question about whether or not I would do it,” Blank said. “I mean, I’m not going to lie. The advent of doing something like that is you’re inviting people into your life. I would say 75% of the film or 70% of the film is me. We’re shooting in my apartment. Those are my parents. That is my brother. Some of the people are my actual friends playing a version of themselves.”

Blank added, “And now it was just about kind of corralling all these pieces to tell my version of it, my version of a New York story. But it is a little daunting that people may feel the film means that they know me or that they have some kind of ownership over my story. But I really was just trying to be a representative of a Black artist.”

Thanks for reading/listening/subscribing. We have lots more to come. Upcoming guests include Rachel Brosnahan for “I’m Your Woman,” Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini for “Dead To Me,” Josh O’Connor for “The Crown” and Steve McQueen for “Small Axe.”

Listen to the podcast here and subscribe to “The Envelope: The Podcast” on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice.

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