How Netflix has sold a movie about starting your second chapter.
Radha Blank wrote, directed and stars in The Forty-Year Old Version, out this week on Netflix. In the story, Radha (Blank) is a playwright in New York City who years ago was celebrated as an up-and-coming talent to watch. Now, a decade later, she finds herself teaching writing but frustrated at her lack of success and further recognition. So she sets out to reinvent herself as a rapper, seeking to balance her love of writing with a desire to tell the unique story of who she is and where she’s at.
Netflix’s marketing campaign hasn’t been massive but definitely gets its point across and, importantly, keeps Blank as the focus of the appeal to audiences. Almost exclusively positive reviews to date have given it a 97% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Find your own voice” is the message being sent on the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis), released at the end of August. Like the movie itself, the photo of Radha is in black and white, with her shown looking off into the distance.
A series of additional posters came out earlier this week, each showing off a specific element of the movie’s story, from a mix-tape to Radha’s big gold “40” earrings to a necklace depicting the New York skyline.
The first trailer (103,000 views on YouTube) came out at the end of August and immediately introduces us to Radha as someone who experienced some recognition years ago but who has languished since then. With students who disrespect her and others who discount her, she seeks to reinvent herself and tell her story through hip-hop. It’s a rough start but with some inspiration and a bit of help she gets going. It sells a movie that’s not quite inspirational but certainly inventive and all about creativity.
Online and Social
The movie received a fair amount of support on Netflix’s brand social media profiles but that’s about it.
Advertising and Promotions
Among others, the movie’s premiere was scheduled for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it generated pretty positive buzz. It went on to win the Directing Award for U.S. dramatic entries. Shortly after the festival ended Netflix acquired distribution of the film.
Media and Press
How editor Rob Wilson crafted the story was covered in an interview during Sundance.
Netflix itself published an extensive interview with Blank about how she prepared for her directorial debut. That was one of a few similar profiles of the multi-hyphenate where she talked about hitting a creative high point at this point in her life and how the project was the result of her own creative frustration.
There are lots of movies about white men going through a midlife crisis or trying to reinvent themselves late in life, but not too many about women of color. So this is a great addition to that sub-genre, one with a point of view that’s uncommon on screens.
Not only that, but the marketing is courageous for putting Blank at the center of every aspect of the campaign given she’s not exactly a household name. But she dominates what’s seen here and sells a movie that’s engaging and interesting with someone with a story clearly worth telling.
Picking Up The Spare
Lots more coverage of and interviews with Blank, including how she wanted to show off a unique aspect of New York City, how she took her love of hip-hop to create the story and how this is the result of a lifelong passion.
There was also an interview with the film’s director of photography.
Blank was interviewed again about how she used the film to tell a version of her own story.