AFTERNOON DELIGHT Movie Review
You could say that, in certain circumstances, to dream is to invite cancer into the flesh of our existence. This is the pox upon the life of Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a bored, well-to-do suburban housewife in an amiable but sexless marriage with a techno-addicted and perpetually distracted husband in Afternoon Delight.
Rachel wants to be taken in the daytime, she wants to climax with her eyes open and see something new, and she believes that she is better than the members of her backbiting clique. She has dreams and memories of dreams that still feel reachable. She has not yet grieved for their death and doesn’t fully celebrate the life of those other, less glamorous dreams — the ones that are often taken for granted.
Rather than pursue those fading dreams, though, Rachel acquires a pet in the form of McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper/sex worker that soon finds herself living with Rachel, her distant husband Jeff (Josh Radnor), and their young son.
McKenna is a distraction, a bit of chaos injected into this sedate and sedated life. This isn’t a full life Etch A Sketch shake, but it’s a move that probably comes from the same swamp of self destruction. Rachel keeps insisting that she can fix McKenna, that she can be the “Captain Save-A-Ho” even after McKenna dismisses the possibility. She is feral and free.
Honestly, I can’t tell if the girl is working a long con, twiddling with someone else’s life due to her own boredom, or genuinely interested in reforming. That is a testament to writer/director Jill Soloway’s script and Temple, the 24 year old actress with an impressive eye for lush material that delivers yet another “wow” inducing performance in this movie.
Despite Temple’s brilliance, though, this is Hahn’s film, and as her experiment in the domestication of an uncommon sex worker goes to pot — first when she accompanies McKenna on an encounter with a hairy, finger sucking whore buyer and then when the girl tantrums her way out of her plush accommodations, banging away the myth that she is a mere nanny — we feel her heartbreak in a real way as she emotionally sobers up. She is discovering the downside of her actions, the reason why you never take in strays, and we wish that we could hold her hand and help her through this mistake.
As the husband, Radnor is somewhat silently suffering in the corner. He’s not oblivious to his wife’s needs or her discontentment, he’s not overly happy, but he doesn’t seem to have the time to deal with those things, whereas Rachel has too much time. Really, he always seems like he’s running late for a bus, but when he wakes up and reacts to what has been going on, he is ferocious.
There is a worthwhile journey beyond that point for Jeff and Rachel and though I wish consequences were more realistic and everlasting, I mostly like how Soloway gets us through that storm and where she leaves these characters.
Overall, this is a clever and truthful piece that examines the scourge of boredom and good intentions gone awry. This is about a marriage that lives in two separate corners and it is about our self identity and realizing the value of things and the myth of perfection. This won’t speak to everyone, but it might speak to you. Beyond that, this is a good and worthy work.
Afternoon Delight is available on VOD and in select theaters in New York and LA.