“Does that feel better? To be a pariah?”
Suburban life may appear to be perfect on the outside, but on the inside, it can be more depressing and disturbing than “normal” people problems. In Afternoon Delight, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is your average, stay-at-home mother. Her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) has an amazing and well-paying job, and she contributes to her local preschool that her child attends. But things aren’t perfect. Her life is essentially without direction, and without passion. Sex between the married couple is basically nonexistent, and tepid when it does occur.
One of Rachel’s friends mentions going to a strip club in a effort to spice up her love life. While there, she experiences a life-altering experience by running into a dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple). Seeing this young woman in this situation leaves an indelible mark in Rachel’s mind, and she seeks out McKenna. The two begin a friendship and soon Rachel “adopts” McKenna into her home in hopes of rehabilitating her, and maybe finding something that will revitalize her fading relationship.
Afternoon Delight made some noise during 2013’s Sundance event, snagging an award for best directing in the U.S. dramatic category, as well as being the number one movie of 2013 according to respected director Quentin Tarantino. With all of this support, I was interested in seeing the prospect of something intriguing. Instead, what I saw was a lack of direction, and a frequent drag.
Immediately prevalent is a lack of definition and verisimilitude in the film’s events and characters. It is hard to accept the fact that after seeing a young woman at a strip club, Rachel is somehow infatuated with her situation, going out of her way to suspend everything in her life to find and open up her home to her…without consulting her husband first. Was a connection established that fast? If so, what makes McKenna the one she is drawn to? Is it attraction? Spur of the moment? Nothing is given or alluded to as to why Rachel clicks so well and quickly with McKenna. Not everything needs to be spelled out, but taking everything as is with no explanation isn’t the best course of action here.
Furthermore, the struggles between Rachel and her husband are never delved upon. The movie just drops us into the fact that the relationship is on the rocks, with no explanation or allusion as to why, which actually doesn’t look that bad. Everything is seen from Rachel’s point of view, which is way too myopic in my opinion for this type of piece. She is a flawed character, which is fine, but her point of view is somewhat distorted, superior, and even selfish, and yet it is the only view seen. As a result, it is a struggle to get behind her. This predominant viewpoint makes the ending a tough pill to swallow. In a nutshell (slight SPOILER) it basically says that every event that occurs, no matter how negative and destructive to other’s lives, is OK because Rachel has found herself and her desires are satisfied.
As a whole, Afternoon Delight comes off as overly pretentious and thought-provoking when in essence, the only concrete thing to take away from it is the fact that one should care about their own life before playing savior to another’s. Otherwise, the themes of intimacy and identity have been seen before and done better before. The dialogue is supposed to be poignant and sharp, but achieves none of this. It is surprisingly billed as a comedy, a dark one at that, but nothing is ever amusing.
Kathryn Hahn has a solid following, and has proven to be pretty adept in comedy. This role allows her to be more serious, and though the writing for the role is weak, she is good. Not captivating, but all in all good. Ditto for Juno Temple. Her character is actually the easiest to cheer for, because she is comfortable in her own skin. It is a sexy yet subtle performance, even if the role itself is more of a concept rather than a character, if that makes sense. Jane Lynch only appears a few times as a therapist to Rachel, and her character offers nothing of note whatsoever. Made worse is the fact that her character is involved in what is supposed to be a very powerful moment in the movie, yet the moment ends up as shoehorned, cringe-worthy, and devoid of any emotional heft.
This is an independent film that looks as expected. Directed by Jill Soloway, it carries a minimalist and simplistic style that works as intended. But, there are times in which there is some uncertainty of how Soloway wants to shoot this. It is pretty conventional, with one scene near the film’s climax that looks great, but interspersed in between are scenes in which shots mimic what is seen in a documentary. This style is really out of place and makes the piece not so much raw but just amateurish.
Perhaps I missed something, but the look at first-world problems and its characters in Afternoon Delight is unrelatable, undefined, and essentially a bore to sit through, even with good lead performances. This afternoon delight isn’t worth looking forward to.
Photo credits go to imdb.com, filmschoolrejects.com, and moviepilot.com.
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