The 40-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, 2020). Employing impressive candor and sharp humor, Radha Blank makes her feature directorial debut with an autobiographical story about a playwright named Radha (played by Blank) who addresses the professional and personal frustration she feels on the cusp of middle age by pursuing a sideline as a rapper. The 40-Year-Old Version has a loose, playful vibe, rich black-and-white cinematography (by director of photography Eric Branco), and an infectious appreciation for the raucous energy of New York City, like a vintage Woody Allen comedy as remade by Spike Lee. Blank makes for an engaging, ingratiating lead, drawing the audience into her corner without resorting to a pandering play for their affections.
She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, 2020). Writer-director Amy Seimetz builds this trippy, science fiction–tinged drama around what feels like a late-night notion: What if the dread that comes with fixating on mortality isn’t just passed from one person to another through power of suggestion, but is literally contagious. Seimetz needlessly slow plays the set up, mistaking a leaden pace for portent. Once the premise locks in, though, She Dies Tomorrow is gloomy, caustic, and compelling. Seimetz has a fine visual sense that’s basically a nicely polished arthouse chic. A seasoned actress herself, Seimetz gives her cast ample space to dig into their roles, striking reserves of pathos and deadpan humor. Jane Adams does the most with what she’s given, effectively portraying the oddity and fragility of her lonely researcher who spirals dramatically when the affliction takes her.
After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985). A rare — arguably singular — foray into straight comedy from director Martin Scorsese, After Hours depicts one long night for Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a word processor whose easy flirtation with a woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) leaves him stuck in the middle of New York City dodging indignities and determined weirdos. Working from a script by Joseph Minion, Scorsese takes obvious delight in capturing the variations on skewed seediness that prosper in his hometown as the night goes later and later, even if he can’t quite bring himself to build the madcap energy that would send the material zinging. There are comic ringers across the cast — notably Catherine O’Hara, Teri Garr, and Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong — but it’s Arquette who is sharpest and most memorable, lending her character a flinty charm that plays as a fascinating swirl of innocence and cunning.