Afternoon Delight (2013)

Review first published by EyeforFIlm

“How can I complain? Women in Darfur, you know, walk 14 miles to get water – raped on the way…”

This is Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), talking to her therapist Lenore (Jane Lynch) near the beginning of Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight, and practically announcing that this will be a film concerned with first-world problems. To many, Rachel’s life would seem blessed. She lives more than comfortably in a large, swanky home in trendy Silverlake, Los Angeles. She has a loyal and loving husband in app designer Jeff (Josh Radner). And since the arrival a few years ago of her son Logan, she has had the luxury of being able to quit her job and stay at home without having to worry about money.

Yet Rachel is unhappy. She misses work, her sex life is non-existent, she feels detached from her own son, and she is trapped in a coterie of fellow middle-class Jewish mothers whom she finds alienating at best. Then one night, at the suggestion of her best friend Stephanie (Jessica St Clair), Rachel heads downtown to a strip club with Jeff – a walk on the wild side that Rachel hopes will revive their lost passion. There she meets McKenna (Juno Temple) – a young, sexually uninhibited lap dancer who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Fascinated, Rachel stalks and befriends the sex worker, and has soon installed her in their home as a live-in nanny, unsure whether she wants to save McKenna, fuck her, or simply become her.

Shortly after McKenna moves in, she tells Rachel how willingly and easily she can fleece the kind of clients she calls “Captain Save-A-Hoes”, who “tell you they’ll help us get off the poles.” She then reveals, “I’m pretty much down for anything – a full service sex worker.” Which is to say that both these women – mother and whore – are entering this exchange with eyes wide open, exploiting one another to their mutual satisfaction, with McKenna happy to live the high life while Rachel goes down. Of course, the full service that McKenna provides is not unlike the counselling sessions offered by Lenore – all in aid of helping Rachel discover who she is and what she wants. And to do so, she must try being somebody else.

In other words, this is a role-swap dramedy, wherein two very different walks of life are brought under the same roof in a social experiment that sees generations gel, classes clash, and sexualities merge. Best known for television’s Six Feet Under and United States Of Tara, Soloway has crafted a well-observed script, too coarse and cruel to be dismissed as frothy romcom. If Rachel’s casual comparison of her own situation to that of rape victims might at first seem shockingly glib, it comes to resonate interestingly towards the end, in a film that is trying to find something universal in the stripped-down experiences of women, no matter how different their situations or backgrounds.

© Anton Bitel