Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight was a hit at Sundance, garnering Soloway a prize for directing and it’s easy to see why. This is one of the best directed, and best acted comedies I’ve seen in quite sometime. Soloway has a skill for coaxing performances from her actors, especially the hilarious Kathryn Hahn. In the lead role of Rachel, Hahn shines as an antsy housewife who feels lost in her own skin, and loses touch with her workaholic husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) between volunteering for craft fairs and taking care of her son.
In an effort to rekindle sparks in the bedroom, Rachel and Jeff accompany their friend, Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair), and her husband for a night out at a strip club. In the days that pass, Rachel befriends one of the strippers, McKenna (Juno Temple) who inadvertantly becomes a pet project for Rachel. Of course, it’s no secret who really needs the help. Against the advice of her oveersharing therapist (Jane Lynch), McKenna becomes a live-in “nanny,” but soon confides in Rachel that she is also a full-fledged sex worker, as McKenna prefers to be called.
Temple is a highlight of the film, playing McKenna as a very self-aware and confident person with a difficult career to pass off as legitimate. Not only does she not need help, but she doesn’t want it either, and it soon becomes clear that McKenna is destined to be this family’s manic pixie dream stripper. However, it doesn’t quite work out that way, with McKenna becoming an agent of chaos within Rachel’s suburban world. After an insanely uncomfortable climax, brilliantly shot by Solloway, the full measure of Rachel’s blunder in trying to be a savior to a nonbeliever comes to the surface. What’s left is to try and pick up the pieces.
Though the film has a comedic core, the drama and characters are always played straight, lending an air of credibility to the entire story. Soloway is also a master of uncomfortable humor in the vein of the original The Office, and the hilarity in the film is rooted in the trials of everyday life. This leads to the perfect mix where we are able to see the truth inside many of these characters, even as they attempt to keep up the charade of a perfect suburban lifestyle. While McKenna may be on hard times financially, she is never shown to the audience to be the one trapped in her life. And for Rachel, the real trap is the one in her head.
Despite all it’s highs, I had some problems with the ending of the film. I don’t think the film earns the resolution it depicts for the Rachel and Jeff, and it’s hard to say if either character’s attitudes change all that much. It may just be as simple as the tagline; afternoon delight: the cure for the common marriage.
Afternoon Delight opens today at the Ritz Bourse.