Rachel is a quick-witted and lovable stay-at-home mom. Frustrated with the realities of preschool auctions, a lackluster sex life and career that's gone kaput, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and meets McKenna, a stripper she adopts as her live-in nanny.Written by
The Film Arcade
The characters aren't always supposed to be likable
If I had a dollar for every time an independent film opened with a man or woman looking lost, listless, and disheveled, I think I'd have about a day's pay. This time, however, the disheveled soul is Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a stay-at-home mother who is falling into a midlife crisis a bit too early it would appear. Her marriage with her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) has gone sexless, her child's school events fail to drum up anything besides faux-excitement, and her purpose in life seems to be nothing of any particular significance. Out of the blue, and because of a recommendation from a close friend, she plans a date- night with her husband at a local area strip club to hopefully spice up their sexlife in the bedroom.
Instead of inspiring sexual energy, Rachel finds herself inspired by McKenna (Juno Temple), a beautiful blonde stripper who claims she's nineteen and has found the ins and outs of the exotic dancing world at a young age. Rachel, taken by McKenna's positivity given her situation, which can often be viewed as degrading, and her mature behavior, hires her as a live-in nanny, however, effectively creating tension between Jeff and her family.
Hahn is terrific here as a woman who is in a part of her life that is not only difficult to go through but difficult to portray accurately. The character of Rachel doesn't seem to know what she wants, and because of that, Hahn already has the difficultly of trying to make a character like that not only sympathetic but accessible to the audience. For what she does, Hahn succeeds almost through-and- through, portraying a character who isn't always likable, isn't always friendly, but is consistently human and easy to identify with in the regard that she makes mistakes, sometimes socially-lethal ones, like we all do, and for that we can admire her in her relatability.
While Hahn takes centerstage here, Juno Temple as an actress here and in other films. Temple has frequently kept herself in the role of a working class woman who is trying to do right but finds ways to get herself in situations that pull her in different directions. Her previous films - like Dirty Girl, which beautifully demonstrated her potential as a lead, Killer Joe, and Little Birds - all had those qualities in some particular way, whereas here, she finds ways to be more comfortable with her life choices and not filled with regret or uncertainty. This subtle difference already makes Temple's performance a bit more different than her previous, but the typical lower-income status- quo her character belongs to still echoes the past quite loudly.
It is a shame, however, that with Hahn and Temple assuming the frontlines of the show here that Josh Radnor, a very talented writer/director/actor, is kind of neglected in terms of character and focus here. His only shining-moment is a predictable outburst that occurs late in the film and even that would've worked better if he had more character to him than the neglected husband role who, oh yeah, has feelings.
Furthermore, it's also sad that first time writer/director Jill Soloway decides to have the third act conflict revolve around Rachel in a drunken-haze, spewing "honesty" at all her girlfriends. Such cartoonishness doesn't belong in this picture, and unlike in a film like August: Osage County with wit and unpredictability, Afternoon Delight explores them with triviality and constant predictability.
With that, Afternoon Delight is kind of a jumble, but the pros outweigh the cons just enough that where a mild but present recommendation can be awarded. Not only do Hahn and Temple demonstrate great leading performances, but Soloway bravely shows her captivation with human interest stories. She'd likely be great participating in the mumblecore "movement," something that needs new people to handle some of the attributes of the long-running subgenre.