Judge Clark Douglas would also be game for a bit of morning merriment.
The cure for the common marriage.
"Sex worker? What's a sex worker?"
Facts of the Case
Rachel (Kathryn Hahn, We're the Millers) is a well-to-do suburban mom who has been going through something of a rough patch lately. She's had trouble bonding with her kid, her sex life with her husband (Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother) has dried up completely and she can't even bring herself to be completely honest with her therapist (Jane Lynch, Glee). Hoping to give her love life a shot in the arm, she takes her husband to a strip club and winds up getting a lap dance from a young exotic dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple, Killer Joe). The attempt to spice up the marriage fails, but soon after Rachel bumps into McKenna again and becomes obsessed with helping the friendly young stripper improve her life.
Soon, McKenna is staying in Rachel's guest room and occasionally even doing a little babysitting. However, Rachel soon discovers that McKenna is much more than an exotic dancer: she also engages in a fair amount of prostitution during her spare time. As the weeks pass, Rachel is slowly but surely drawn into McKenna's lurid world, and her marriage is shaken up to a considerable degree as a result.
Quentin Tarantino infamously dubbed Afternoon Delight one of his favorite films of 2013, and for the first half-hour or so I found his position at least semi-understandable. Jill Soloway's film begins in exceptional fashion, crafting a superbly satirical yet honest portrait of a faltering suburban marriage and loading her movie with complex, well-drawn characters. We have far too few films that offer a thoroughly female perspective on life, and it wasn't long before I was ready to go anywhere Soloway, Hahn and Temple felt inclined to take me. Alas, things start getting shaky midway through and turn disastrous by the final act.
Initially, it seems as if we're getting the sort of nuanced critique of suburban life that American Beauty should have been. The film has affection for its characters while ruthlessly undercutting their self-absorbed way of life, and the jokes are largely smart observations rather than easy cheap shots (such as a scene in which Rachel sheepishly admits that she's contemplated getting a maid even though she doesn't actually have a job herself). I loved the portrait of McKenna, too: she's not just a good-hearted stripper for our protagonist to save, but a smart, self-aware businesswoman who's perfectly willing to accept some small moral compromises in order to make a decent living. In fact, Temple's performance is so solid that I was genuinely startled that I realized the movie ultimately doesn't have any interest in her.
By the final act, we come to the crushing realization that McKenna is merely a plot device—her sole purpose is to help Rachel and her hubby spice up their marriage a bit. Sure, McKenna takes some bad turns and seems headed towards an uncertain destination by the time the film reaches the finish line, but that doesn't particularly matter since Rachel is having orgasms again. That may sound like a low blow, but that's ultimately what the movie boils down to (a notion emphasized by the explicit, orgasmic closing shot). This only adds to the feeling that the whole thing is a bit classist, suggesting that the wealthy might have a few things to learn from working-class folks but that the two sides ultimately don't mix well. It begins as a great character study, and eventually turns into the ultimate Rich White People Problems movie.
That's a shame, especially since Hahn is absolutely deserving of a showcase like this. She's been doing stellar work in comedies (both indie and mainstream) for years, and her work here is simply terrific. She's alternately funny, lovable and terrifying—in fact, she's all three simultaneously in a superbly-acted scene that finds Hahn having a meltdown at a friendly social gathering. Unfortunately, that scene is intercut with an awful, fairly ridiculous scene in which the husband and his bros turn into slobbering pigs once McKenna starts flirting with them. Jane Lynch is appealing in her supporting role, though she often seems disconnected from the rest of the movie. It's a pity to see the phenomenally talented Keegan Michael-Key (of Key & Peele fame) wasted in a throwaway supporting role.
Afternoon Delight (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/1.85:1 transfer that offers superb detail and bright, vibrant colors. It doesn't do a whole lot to distinguish itself visually from many indie comedies, but this is a consistently exceptional transfer. Shadow delineation is stellar throughout, and depth is impressive. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is appealing, but simple. It's a dialogue-driven flick that only gives your surround speakers something to do when the rock songs on the soundtrack kick into gear. Supplements include a commentary with Soloway and Hahn, seven very short making-of featurettes (running twenty minutes combined), deleted scenes, a trailer and a DVD copy.
Superbly acted and occasionally observant but disappointingly shallow on a narrative level, Afternoon Delight is a frustrating film. It's arguably worth seeing as a showcase for Hahn and Temple, but it ultimately leaves the viewer much more unsatisfied than it leaves Hahn and Radnor.
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