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Afternoon Delight (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Afternoon Delight


Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Josh Stamberg, John Kapelos, Keegan Michael Key and Sawyer Ever.

Screenplay by Jill Soloway.

Directed by Jill Soloway.

Distributed by Film Arcade. 102 minutes. Rated R.

Afternoon Delight starts out much like its lead character, trying to shake up its staid, slightly dull world with some unusual and risky dips into the dark side. And for a good two-thirds of the movie it is rather fascinating due to this uninhibited exploration of alternative realities and sexual mores.

Then sadly, the heroine (and the movie) suddenly seems to snap into an odd state of closed-minded morality and what started out as imperfect, human, questing and slightly dangerous quickly becomes shrill and judgmental. This change in direction might even be the most logical thing simply from a plot structure point of view, but it comes off as too safe and predictable. An intriguing movie idea crumbles under the weight of the overwrought sermonizing of its climax.

It is a real shame, because it ends up sort of wasting a rare lead role for wonderfully quirky character actress Kathryn Hahn. Hahn has mostly been relegated to supporting comic roles (the most recent being in the current We're the Millers) since her breakout role on the TV series Crossing Jordan about a decade ago.

Hahn is an interesting sort for Hollywood, smart, sweet and funny, a little sexy if not exactly gorgeous – basically the type of actress who usually gets dumped into quirky best friend roles (and Hahn has done more than her share of those). Therefore, for Hahn to get the lead role – and on top of that one in a rather dangerously explicit movie – sounded like a reason to cheer.

Hahn does her best with the role, and she has many very interesting and uncomfortable scenes, before her character gets painted into a corner by the film's ending.

Despite its title, which sort of screams "sex comedy," Afternoon Delight has a much more serious, dark premise at its heart. It is a look at boredom, depression and aimlessness in an upper-middle-class marriage.

Rachel (Hahn) seems to have a perfect life: a nice, well-off husband Jeff (Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother), an adorable five-year old son (Sawyer Ever), lots of friends, a beautiful home in the trendy LA Silverlake neighborhood, lots of activities and no real need to work.

And yet, living the suburban ideal is unsatisfying for Rachel, who looks back longingly at years of college partying, sexual promiscuity and the dream of a career as a journalist. While she and Jeff are not arguing and do love each other, there are cracks forming in their façade. He is way too busy as his business has taken off, she is not busy enough, and they almost never have sex anymore.

Rachel's best friend Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair) suggests that it may spice things up a bit if Rachel and Jeff join her and her husband at a local strip club. On a whim, Jeff buys his wife a lap dance with a pixyish blonde dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple) and this experience inadvertently opens up his wife to the heart of darkness.

Rachel finds herself fixated on the young girl and goes back to the club, setting up a "chance" meeting at a local coffee truck and befriending the girl. Suddenly, Rachel is spending more and more time with McKenna, eventually even allowing her to stay at her house and become nanny to her son.

Because, yeah, it's always a good idea to bring a young stripper in to your home to live with your husband and small boy.

Rachel learns more about McKenna's history, her difficult home life, how much McKenna actually enjoys stripping and the fact that she also does some escort work on the side.

It is never completely explained if it is sexual curiosity or a misguided attempt at charity that causes Rachel to take McKenna under her wing – it was probably a bit of both – but Rachel makes it her project to save McKenna from a life as "a full-service sex worker," as McKenna euphemistically puts it.

The obvious problem is that McKenna really has no real interest in being saved. She actually likes her lifestyle, and tries to initiate Rachel into it in safe, voyeuristic ways. And Rachel seems to respond to it with more fascination than revulsion.

Writer/director Jill Soloway (The United States of Tara, Six Feet Under) has an interesting, subversive story idea, but eventually it hits a point where the film can go one of two ways: it can punish Rachel (and to a certain extent McKenna) for taking such extreme risks in their lives or it can allow Rachel to embrace a seedy new world that she really had little knowledge of previously.

Afternoon Delight takes the simple and expected way out, but that pretty much erases all the funky interest the film had built up previously.

Is it a smart idea to take in a stripper and hooker to live with a middle-class family? Undoubtedly not. But Afternoon Delight started out as much more than a commonplace morality tale before eventually degenerating into being as histrionic and unforgiving as a modern Reefer Madness.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: August 30, 2013.

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