*** (out of four)
Congratulations to the past three weeks: They win the award for movies with actresses who should headline more often. First there was Lake Bell in “In a World …” (which Bell wrote and directed, but still) and now it’s Kathryn Hahn (“We’re the Millers,” “Our Idiot Brother”) in “Afternoon Delight,” Hollywood’s latest reminder about the misery of married folk. In fact, this feature writing-directing debut from Chicago native Jill Soloway presents marriage and parenthood as if they’re about as fun and rewarding as errands you dislike and kids’ friends’ parents you enjoy even less.
Rachel (Hahn) and her husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor), haven’t had sex for six months, and both are attached to their phones—Rachel when she should be playing with their 5-year-old son, and Jeff pretty much all the time. “How can I complain?” Rachel confesses to her therapist (Jane Lynch), aware that a wealthy, healthy married mom in L.A. has infinitely more privileges than, say, women in Darfur.
Yet out of work and out of patience for a life that seems to have left its best days behind, Rachel’s boredom leads to a fixation on McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper at a club where Rachel and Jeff party in an effort to rejuvenate their sex life. (Rachel’s vomiting prevents any boots-knocking; Jeff says “It’s OK” and clearly doesn’t mean it.) Since Rachel’s already spent time volunteering with the homeless, McKenna’s in-flux living situation presents an opportunity to help a young girl in need—and, really just an opportunity to do something new and exciting.
I’m not sure I buy the way Rachel and McKenna’s relationship unfolds, but “Afternoon Delight” represents something of a character-driven jolt to the subgenre of sad, middle-aged, white suburbanites. Much credit goes to Hahn, who’s great in a story about a world that, despite superficial wins, often isn’t.
Even if she doesn’t have many fresh observations about long-term relationships or the pratfalls of our modern, technology-driven society, Soloway avoids most of the traps and cliches that come with movies about strippers. In fact, it’s the lack of judgment toward McKenna’s part-time sex work that makes “Afternoon Delight” refreshingly open-minded. Dan Savage would approve.
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