A bored housewife takes in a down-on-her luck stripper who turns out to be newly sober and oh, also a “full-service sex worker.” What could possibly go wrong?
Uncomfortably realistic in many ways, “Afternoon Delight” showcases the formidable acting chops of Katherine Hahn and will make you so happy that your life is normal that you just leave it that way.
To writer/director Jill Soloway’s credit, the first thing Hahn’s character Rachel does is apologize for her First World problems. But perspective doesn’t help her, the wife of a successful app designer, living in a gorgeous house in Silverlake and spending her time volunteering for events at their 5-year-old son’s Jewish school. She hasn’t had sex in 6 months, they’ve lost their emotional connection, and she’s lost any direction she ever might have had for her own life. On the advice of her fellow PTA mom and confidante, Rachel convinces husband Jeff (Josh Radnor from “How I Met Your Mother”) to spend a night out at a strip club, where she meets “dancer” McKenna. Whoomp, there it is.
Rachel befriends McKenna and invites her to stay at their home, giving her a way out of “that life.” She rationalizes the move to her husband , her friends, (“This is our new nanny!”) and even herself as a charitable thing, but it quickly becomes obvious that Rachel is morbidly fascinated by McKenna’s line of work and her general way of navigating the world, both of which stir up powerful feelings that may have been deadened by the long, monotonous slog of financially comfortable stay-at-home parenting.
Hijinks ensue. Obvs. You can see them coming a mile away, but that doesn’t make them less surprising or entertaining, or uncomfortable. This movie was almost painful to watch, but I couldn’t look away. I felt compelled to explain to my husband that women don’t sit around discussing the hilarious abortions we had during college over multiple glasses of red wine. And I’m hoping that four grown men – married, fathers, whose wives and kids are on their way home right now for God’s sake – would tell each other NOT to have sex with the nanny even when she is shaking her goods in all of their faces.
The supporting characters in “Afternoon Delight” are priceless. When I saw Jane Lynch’s name come up during the opening credit sequence I clapped and settled down into my seat, and while her therapist, Lenore, was an over the top incarnation of a Jane Lynch character, what else would you expect? John Kapelos appears as one of McKenna’s johns, and only after I looked at the credits did I realize why he was so familiar looking. The slightly creepy janitor from every John Hughes film, FTW!
But it was the PTA moms that Rachel spent her days and nights with who stole my heart. Jenny, the ringleader of every school fundraising event, practically sings “We’re raising money for Jewish women with CANCER!” and she delightfully chews up every scene she’s in, even dropping the C-word at check-in for the school’s “Craftacular.” The rest of the PTA moms ensemble rounds out the crowd where Rachel barely fits in. In fact, that’s the whole problem – she doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. She bites her lips and laughs awkwardly and wears ill-fitting T-shirts and you just want to hug her and say “Honey, you’ll be fine. Let me just take that glass for you. Want some coffee?”
“Afternoon Delight” reminded me, in parts, of “Pretty Woman,” “White Oleander,” and “Lost in Translation.” Soloway has mastered the presentation of pretty/seedy Los Angeles with a slightly unsettling air about it – see her earlier work on “Six Feet Under” – there are some strategically gorgeous shots of Rachel and Jeff’s royal perch above the city. In other words, she seems to say to her main characters, quit your whining. You’ve got it better than most. As husband Jeff shouts to his bored, fed-up wife, “Not everyone gets to be happy!”
Still, it’s a happy ending Rachel is looking for, at least in the literal sense, if you know what I mean. A hundred years ago a doctor would have declared her afflicted with hysteria, and ordered her to a fainting couch with some lithium. We’ve come a long way, baby.
“Afternoon Delight” written and directed by Jill Soloway. Opens Friday, August 30.