By Richard Haridy
February 5, 2014
Veteran TV writer Jill Soloway makes a wonderfully successful jump to feature films with Afternoon Delight, a disarmingly sly story that offers a subtle female twist on a tale we so regularly see from a male perspective.
Kathryn Hahn is Rachel, a thirty-something mother trapped in a sexless marriage with her work-obsessed husband (Josh Radnor). Following some dubious advice, the couple visit a strip club in the hopes of sparking up their stagnant sex life, and here Rachel meets McKenna (Juno Temple), a young stripper who Rachel begins to develop an obsession with. Deciding McKenna needs “saving”, Rachel invites her into the family’s spare room not realising the chaos she is bringing into their home.
Afternoon Delight frequently feels like a refreshing spin on the male mid-life crisis narrative we so often see in American cinema and Soloway admirably keeps much of Rachel’s motivations satisfyingly oblique. What could’ve been a bland satire on the liberal upper class need to help the disadvantaged (I’m looking at you, The Blind Side) quickly turns into an impressively nuanced examination of the ruts long term relationships can slip into. More like American Beauty with a dash of Six Degrees Of Separation.
Temple is striking as McKenna never falling into the trite clichés her role suggests, but Hahn is the real revelation. After spending years working in comedic supporting roles she shows considerable dramatic skills here. Hahn’s presence is commanding, balancing her character’s frequently abstract motivations with an irresistible charm softening the harsh edges of a potentially unlikable character. A long dramatic sequence late in the picture that alternates between the husbands and the wives is especially impressive.
Soloway teases rather than fully develops several different fascinating ideas in Afternoon Delight – particularly one unsettling but gripping sequence following Rachel’s interest in McKenna’s job to its logical conclusion – and while the flick doesn’t ultimately cohere into a wholly satisfying single entity it’s still an incredibly compelling experience. Between the impressive supporting cast (Jane Lynch, Michaela Watkins, Keegan-Michael Key), Hahn’s remarkable central performance, and Soloway’s sharp observational writing, Afternoon Delight manages to overcome a disappointingly pat conclusion and offer up a refreshingly sharp blend of comedy and drama.
Afternoon Delight is now available on Quickflix.