Afternoon Delight is an unfortunate film that attempts to be some emotional, revolutionary journey that depicts the hardships of a stale marriage and the struggles of one docile wife/mother desperately trying to find some sort of life saving spark. The keyword is “tries” though, because writer/director Jill Soloway completely misses the mark by introducing main character Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) to a young stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple), creating a situation in which Hahn attempts to “save” Temple from a life of stripping – and then some. But what appears to be a spiritual journey ends up being a fruitless one full of pain, suffering, and one somber revelation after the next, almost making us question why the hell we’d ever want to do anything nice for someone ever again.
Rachel (Hahn) is your typical stay-at-home mother, running around with her child Mason’s busy schedule while interacting with the other soccer-mom types stuck in similar situations. Starting to become overwhelmed and feeling a little bored, Rachel also has trouble at home with her hard-working husband Jeff (Josh Radnor), as their sex drive has completely fallen off the map. Looking for purpose, Rachel sees an opportunity to do some good after starting a relationship with a stripper named McKenna (Temple), finding her recently homeless. Bringing McKenna into her home, Rachel wants to rescue McKenna from her sad circumstances, even after she learns the twenty something year old girl is a full-fledged prostitute. But with a family to take care of and a social responsibility to hold up in the community, Rachel learns that having a “sex-worker” hanging around the house wasn’t one of her better ideas – and she may be burned because of it.
Before engaging rant mode though, let me start with some positivity, as Afternoon Delight is Kathryn Hahn’s moment in the sun. She’s been a solid supporting character in every comedic film she’s done, but Soloway’s story presented Hahn with some more serious material to dabble in, as well as more grounded comedy instead of the typical Adam McKay spot where she’d play some type of over-the-top kook. Lake Bell made the same transition from shadow-lurking to center stage stardom this summer with In A World…, and Hahn’s transition is similarly successful – except the film around Kathryn happens to be utter garbage. It’s a tremendous shame because Hahn courageously exploits herself for the role of Rachel, vivaciously asserting herself into scenarios other actresses might blush just thinking about. She’s charming, funny, and genuinely real – until Soloway’s story gets in the way.
From here, Afternoon Delight turns into an utter mess, all starting with the introduction of Juno Temple’s “sex-worker” character McKenna. Temple is almost unrecognizable at first, especially because I just saw her in Magic Magic, but while her character starts off mysterious and thoroughly engaging, she leaves us on the most unsatisfying terms, abruptly ending her story arc in a tonally ridiculous “blaze of glory” that’s actually predictable in its strive to be different. There’s no real happy ending, McKenna is nothing but an abhorrent monster (or so Soloway mistakenly leads us to believe), and everyone learns life isn’t so perfect. Temple’s character overreacts to the very first circumstance she dislikes in Rachel’s house and destroys a marriage in the process. I know this is all supposed to lead towards a life lesson for Rachel’s character, but for me at least, Soloway’s film came to a screeching halt at this point, destroying every bit of plot advancement created in a fiery wreck of cliched ridiculousness.
This is the main problem with Afternoon Delight: Soloway’s film never recovers from such a momentous disaster. The comedy and cheerfulness already built is completely erased, everything that happens afterward seems unparallelled in comparison, and nothing is ever the same. Not only that, but we never get any more closure on McKenna, and she remains a callous and mean-spirited character. Yet, through it all, Rachel still recovers, and starts having sex with her husband again. Life is messy and unpredictable, but Afternoon Delight‘s depiction of this mantra is whiny and preposterous, and disappointingly unenjoyable.
It’s sad, and maybe other people will have a more connective experience with the story, but Afternoon Delight boils down to a few points for me: Never trust a “sex-worker,” random acts of kindness get you nowhere, and mid-day sex can save a marriage. Sorry for being blunt, but I found Kathryn Hahn’s strong leading performance wasted on a story that leaves a bitterly repulsive taste, especially for a young adult who apparently has all this bullshit to look forward to. Not even a supporting cast featuring Radnor, Jane Lynch, Michaela Watkins, and Keegan Michael Key could help save this doomed piece of dreary cinema, delivering more uncomfortable feelings than laughs.
Whatever. If there’s one thing to take away from Soloway’s movie, it’s that we should all be taking breaks during the day for some stress-relieving sexy time. Eh, I guess I could get behind that (ha, I made a funny) – a lot more than I can get behind this movie, in fact.