India Summer, Cherie DeVille and others star in 40 Years Old, Comes to Life.

‘40 Years Old, Comes to Life’: Adult Empire Porn Movie of the Year 2020

40 Years Old, Comes to Life is a movie for the frustrated romance writer in all of us.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that a story about an insular, cooped-up professional would take hold while audiences were similarly constricted by COVID’s devastating impacts. Twenty-twenty was a year for flights of fantasy but also depression and cabin fever. Some adult movies engaged the COVID theme directly with tales of socially distanced sex and dystopian disarray. Others, like Kay Brandt’s 40 Years Old, Comes to Life, spoke more generally to unfulfilled longings and sexual hungers. The effective, topical mix of sex and character drama helped it come to life in Adult Empire’s VOD rankings. It creeped into the top five in early July before embarking on a four-week streak later that same summer. That December, the DVD incarnation also made a strong push in the Adult Empire rankings. Like a durable bestseller or a resourceful author, the movie enjoyed a lengthy run with an impressive variety of audiences.

Kelly (Cherie DeVille) is a writer whose job doesn’t always mesh well with her private life. Her partner (Will Pounder) decides one morning that he can’t do it anymore. Being tethered to a woman who seems more interested in her computer keyboard is not the life for him. Though they’re fresh from romantic fireside sex in the movie’s first scene, Will declares that he’s out. She can delete him from social media and slam him to her friends, but he’s finished with her. Heartbroken and angry, Kelly throws herself into her work. She pens a fearsome threesome scene, rejiggering its specifics to match her emotional state as she goes along. She allows the women (Emily Willis and India Summer) to take charge with a tangible emotional connection, leaving Codey Steele to be “just the dick.”

Kelly steps into scenes with her characters, talks to them, haggles with them over story details, and in general allows them to have life well beyond the page. People in her life, including sister Elsa Jean and Elsa’s lover (Shyla Jennings), also swoop into the story, often making off-hand jabs at Kelly’s neuroses along the way. This self-effacing aspect gives the movie an unexpectedly humorous dimension.

The movie echoes a prior top hit, Unfolding, in its focus on the sexual growth of a character played by Cherie DeVille. While the stories are ultimately quite different, they would make for an interesting double bill. There’s also a hint here of Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, another movie that dealt with a writer whose sexual fantasies have begun to leap off the page. The tone is more comedic and neurotic, of course, but the sexy insight into the mind of the writer is still there. (I’ll wait patiently for the scene pairing Swimming Pool‘s Charlotte Rampling with porn’s DeVille.)

DeVille herself joins the action in two of the movie’s scenes, the opening with her partner and a later sequence featuring a foursome with some of her most memorable characters. Perhaps it’s mildly disappointing that Deville does not feature directly in the movie’s final, climactic segment, but her absence there makes logical sense with the flow of the story. It’s a bold performance for DeVille, who isn’t afraid to make her character tiresome and even annoying at times, choices that effectively capture the many moods of the writer trying to pour it all out on the page.

While the movie is generally feminist in its flavor, it’s not above a few barbs about women, too. “Women are horrible creatures, too,” observes Shyla Jennings at one point, emphasizing that 40 Years Old is really about humanity in general, not just one gender or another. It leaves us wanting to explore more of Kelly’s fantasies, which, by extension, represent our own simmering sexual id.

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