Review: Kathryn Hahn shines in flawed 'Afternoon Delight'
PARK CITY - There's a great idea for a movie inside Jill Soloway's "Afternoon Delight. Unfortunately, the former "United States of Tara" writer and producer veered away from the more compelling subject matter in her LA-set drama for a titillating tease that just doesn't work. Thankfully, Kathryn Hahn's impressive dramatic performance pulls the picture through most of the rough patches.
Set in present day in the East side neighborhood of Silverlake, Rachel (Hahn) is a former writer turned stay at home mom. Her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) is increasingly distracted with family life as he deals with the successful sale of his apps business. In a session with her therapist Lenore (Jane Lynch), Rachel talks about how she thinks she's a bad mother because she doesn't play with her 4-year-old son on the ground and bemoans the fact she hasn't had sex with her husband in six months (bedtime isn't fun time for Rachel). Lenore suggests Rachel liven things up and asks her when she'd prefer to have sex. Rachel's response? Late afternoon when the sun is still coming through the window shades. Hence, the film's title and the audience's cue that this picture will have nothing to do with the classic Starland Vocal Band tune.
Hanging with her BFF Stephenie (Jessica St. Clair) one afternoon, Rachel is intrigued when Stephenie mentions that she and her husband go to strip clubs all the time to get the juices flowing. They arrange a couples night and soon find themselves at a strip club downtown. Rachel's husband buys her a lap dance with McKenna (Juno Temple). The young stripper leads her to a back room where Rebecca is clearly uncomfortable with the experience and stunned to find out McKenna is just 19 years old. Rachel and Jeff soon head home where their expected night of lovemaking is scuttled after Rachel throws up in the bathroom.
Unable to keep McKenna out of her mind, Rachel starts driving by the strip club during the day as she's pretty much resorted to stalking the adult entertainer. When she notices some of the strippers including McKenna hanging near a coffee van, she takes the initiative to try and start a conversation with her. The two slowly become coffee drinking buddies as Rachel makes it obvious she's hoping to help McKenna leave her chosen line of work. When McKenna finds herself unexpectedly homeless, Rachel quickly invites her to stay at her stylish digs as a guest. That's when things are supposed to get more interesting, but, instead, Soloway starts to lose her way with the story.
Soloway's goal is to paint a portrait of a thirty-something woman who seems to have it all, but is frustrated with where her life is. Rachel wanted to be a war correspondent. She'd had tons of fun in her 20s. She didn't expect to be stuck in a circle of semi-philanthropic Jewish housewives who she can barely relate to. She didn't expect her husband to become so consumed by his job and never believed she'd feel distant to her own son. Soloway wants to contrast this with McKenna's story to show Rachel that she has her own crap to deal with, and trying to play patron saint to the stripper should be the least of her concerns. Soloway's problem, however, is that McKenna is the least interesting character in the movie. Meanwhile, the scenes showcasing Rachel's interactions with the other wives are the most spot on and entertaining. Those moments make "Delight" seem like an East LA answer to Nicole Holofcener's "Friends with Money," but the stripper subplot just continues to distract from the more intriguing material.
What makes "Delight" worthwhile is Hahn's impressive performance. Best known for her roles in movies such as "Step Brothers" and TV series such as "Crossing Jordan," Hahn gets a chance her to demonstrate her dramatic skills to superb effect. Hahn makes you root for Rachel even when you cringe at her naiveté. The veteran Hollywood actor has made her name in comedy, but here's hoping "Delight" opens the door to more serious roles in her future.
As for the rest of the cast, Temple is fine as McKenna, but she's starting to get pigeonholed into playing sleazy or trashy characters and it's all beginning to feel one note. Temple should try to take as many different roles as she can after "Delight" and "Lovelace" (which also premieres at Sundance). Radnor is very good as Jeff. In fact, he's better here than he's been starring in his own Sundance features "Liberal Arts" and "Happythankyoumoreplease." Lynch brings some much needed comic relief as Lenore while St. Clair, Annie Mumolo, Michaela Watkins and Suzy Nakamura are fantastic as Rachel's pseudo friends.
Distributors might have hoped the "live-in stripper" pitch would make "Delight" a surprise comedy player. Instead, it's more of a drama that will do minimal business on the art house circuit.
For instant reactions from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.
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