People who are so self-consumed with hiding their own unhappiness and flaws from the people closest to them at times can be the ones most determined to improve the faults of those who appear to be in worse situations. While helping others overcome the errors of their ways can be positively rewarding, it can also lead to disastrous results that make them ponder the type of life choices they’ve made to make their lives so unrewarding to begin with. That’s certainly the case with the struggling wife and mother in writer-helmer Jill Soloway’s new comedy-drama, ‘Afternoon Delight,’ which opens in select New York theaters on Friday. The filmmaker, who was named the Best Director at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, strived, and unfortunately only partially succeeded, in showcasing the treacherous lengths unfulfilled wives and mother will go to in order to fix their mistakes, only to find themselves in an even more deceitful situation.
‘Afternoon Delight’ follows Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a well-educated, quick-witted and lovable, yet tightly coiled, thirty-something mother and wife, who seems content with her life in the creative class of Los Angeles’s bohemian, affluent Silver Lake neighborhood. Rachel appears to have everything she’s ever wanted-a chic modernist home, a successful husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor), an adorable young child, Logan (Sawyer Ever) and supporting friends, including best friend Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair).
But as Rachel reveals to her therapist, Lenore (Jane Lynch), her life isn’t as glamorous as it seems. She and Jeff haven’t had sex in six months, and is emotionally deadened by the boring realities of preschool auctions and a writing career that never fully launched. To help liven up her marriage, Stephanie suggests that Rachel brings her husband to a strip club. During their night out, she meets McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper whom she becomes obsessed with saving. Rachel befriends and then hires McKenna as her live-in nanny, which unleashes unexpected change into her life and community.
While many films contending with the realistic flaws of, and unnerving tensions between, its main characters, Soloway daringly introduced Rachel and Jeff’s idiosyncrasies in the beginning of ‘Afternoon Delight.’ The decision forced the two to intriguingly ponder their successes and failures, both within themselves and in their marriage. Rachel is boldly represented as comprehending and accepting the fact that her relationships with her family and friends aren’t as fulfilling as she plays them off to be, and is willing to take any drastic measure necessary to once again obtain the happiness she so desperately desires. Her strong will to survive the difficult emotional experiences and extend her desire to help improve the life of even one person less fortunate than herself is intriguingly emphasized through her newfound protectiveness of McKenna.
While the beginning of ‘Afternoon Delight’ boldly showcases the extreme measures a seemingly sophisticated mother and wife to care about those she cares about while also seeking the rejuvenation of her own happiness, Soloway unfortunately loses the clear focus of the important life lessons she painstakingly built the comedy-drama’s story around. As Rachel becomes shocked and revolted to learn about the provocative sexual world McKenna has immersed herself in while struggle to survive, the family-centered woman loses her redeeming sympathetic nature.
From Rachel losing her inhibitions while drinking and subsequently ridiculing her friends’ lifestyle choices, to dismissively shunning McKenna as she begins to truly care for the Logan’s well-being, the film’s plot hastily loses the genuine focus of its important theme of embracing people for who they have become. Rachel and her friends begin to feel self-indulgent and self-serving after becoming too close to McKenna’s world, and their initial redeeming liberal regard towards experimenting with new lifestyle choices quickly dissipates.
Despite the surprising and at times uninhibited turn in Rachel’s decisions and reactions after forming the inappropriate relationship with McKenna, Temple firmly portrayed the troubled young dancer as being secure in her beliefs that there was nothing morally wrong with her lifestyle and career choices. From the first time she seductively meets Rachel and Jeff through the countless naive attempts the couple makes for her to make more respectable choices with her life, the actress wasn’t afraid to portray McKenna of living an unrestricted life that allowed her to engage in risqué and dangerous situations, such as engaging in a weekly meeting with older men who paid her for sex. The actress unrestrictedly showed that the only validation the troubled girl felt was through her clients’ unquestioned physical desire for her, and the emotional support Rachel offered her pushed her to her breaking point of not allowing anyone to truly care about her.
The beginning of Soloway’s expressively jarring, realistic comedy-drama daringly explored the emotional and physical tolls of formerly secure relationships have on a person. Through Hahn’s initially captivating performance as a fraught mother struggling to find her identity and place within her marriage, friendships, parental responsibilities and career, ‘Afternoon Delight’ had the potential to tell a memorable, realistic story on women’s plight with their feelings. However, after Rachel forms a morally questionable relationship with a young dancer, who doesn’t have the complete motivation to find the courage to truly walk away from her job, the mother unfortunately becomes so decadent she doesn’t see how her actions are hurting the people she cares about the most. Rachel’s increasing descent into self-destruction is genuinely aided by Temple’s tense portrayal as McKenna, who proves that the seemingly glamorous life isn’t as rewarding and liberating as people may believe.