11:45 AM EDT, September 5, 2013
Once you prove yourself in a certain kind of broad comedy, as Kathryn Hahn has in the movies and on TV, you spend a fair percentage of your career trying to prove that you can do other things too. In the inexplicably popular "We're the Millers" Hahn brings her usual confident attack to a shrill supporting role. It's welcome, therefore, probably for her and certainly for us, to watch her explore a more bittersweet variety of situations in her first screen lead, in writer-director Jill Soloway's "Afternoon Delight."
It's an up-and-down movie, honest one minute and a fraud the next, but you stick with it mainly because of Hahn. She plays Rachel, an LA woman whose life looks pretty full on paper: successful husband (Josh Radnor), though he's "never not working"; healthy son; a busy-enough life volunteering at the local Jewish Community Center. But the sex is nil, her sessions with her therapist (Jane Lynch) are a series of half-truths and the marital intimacy has dipped beneath the radar.
A double date to a strip club introduces Rachel to McKenna (Juno Temple), a stripper primarily and a prostitute secondarily. Soloway contrives to have Rachel and McKenna become friends after an initial lap dance designed (unsuccessfully) to recharge Rachel's love life at home. Soon Rachel's introducing McKenna around as her son's nanny. Homeless, McKenna needs a place to stay, and so in she moves to the couple's posh Silver Lake home.
Is this sex worker a pal, a seductress, what? These are the questions "Afternoon Delight" answers as Hahn's mixed-up, seriously dissatisfied protagonist inches toward new horizons. Rachel's nervy edginess, established by her taste in rape jokes, predictably masks a lot of unresolved anger over her college years. The husband is a comically uncommunicative schmo, until he becomes a wonderful guy in time for a happy ending.
More intriguingly, there's a subtly explicated theme in "Afternoon Delight" of the goy princess, Temple's dream hottie, invading the "super Jewish" (as one character says) milieu of these JCC mothers. Rachel's in the tribe yet at odds with everyone in the film; the movie explains why, and ends up overexplaining it.
Even in the scenes that feel unsure, or forced, Hahn is in there, working hard but — for once — never too hard. Soloway gets off some sharp lines, and her comic phrasing is often surprising, as when Rachel describes herself as a "Twitter lurker," as opposed to an actual tweeter. Messy at its best, tidy and familiar at its weakest, "Afternoon Delight" suggests the best way to find yourself and awaken your spouse's devotion is to bring home a pole dancer, be nice to her and then expose her for the wily coyote she surely is. It's a weirdly heartless message for a half-successful movie about someone looking to get her heart pumping again.
"Afternoon Delight" - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for strong, sometimes graphic, sexual content, language and some drug use)
Running time: 1:37
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