If you’re a bored, upper-middle class, suburban housewife with a non-existent sex life what do you do? According to some accounts that we hear about in the news, you turn to Vicodin or Oxy to get you through the day. In AFTERNOON DELIGHT, housewife Rachel finds a sex worker and brings her home to “rehabilitate” the young woman. If you think popping pills would be a safer choice, I would agree after watching this film.
Rachel (Kathryn Hahn, whom audiences may recognise from the TV shows PARKS & RECREATION and GIRLS) and husband Jeff (HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER’s Josh Radnor) are your typical, upscale, 30-something couple living in suburban Los Angeles. They are both cultural Jews. Rachel reluctantly volunteers at the local Jewish Community Center’s numerous fundraising events. Jeff eats bagels with cream cheese schmears. While Rachel’s life consists of running from the JCC to the supermarket to her narcissistic therapist (comically played by GLEE’s Jane Lynch), Jeff is busy working on his next successful smartphone app venture. Rachel is miserable inside. She and Jeff have been in a sexual dry spell for six months but it’s not because Jeff hasn’t tried. Rachel just isn’t in the mood.
One day, her best friend suggests Rachel and Jeff go to a local strip club to spice up their sex life. They go and Jeff decides to buy Rachel a lap dance from McKenna, an exotic dancer who works there. (Yes, Jeff buys one for Rachel, not the other way around.)
Up to that point, the film is a comedy but then the script takes a detour and becomes a morality tale. The next morning Rachel seeks out McKenna, not to learn a few tricks of the trade from her, but rather to “save” her. Rachel, who gave up her a career in public relations that she didn’t like anyway, feels that she can find meaning in life if she plays Richard Gere to McKenna’s Julia Roberts. Rachel hires McKenna as her 5-year-old child’s live-in nanny and, of course, Jeff approves as do all of Jeff’s male friends. They don’t know McKenna is a prostitute but they do notice that she’s ultra-hot.
Predictably, such a great idea has to have a bad outcome. One evening with the girls, Rachel’s real feelings about her life and her relationships with her girlfriends bubble up to the surface and she lets go. Meanwhile, Jeff hosts a poker night with the guys at home while McKenna is there. There are disasters and then there is this evening. By the time the sun rises in the morning, more than one marriage and a few friendships in this bedroom community have been blown to bits. In the aftermath, Rachel finally decides to put a voice to her feelings. She tells Jeff that she wants to have some afternoon delight, and he happily obliges. And they live happily ever after while McKenna goes back to being a “full service sex worker” in West Hollywood. Couldn’t there have been a less destructive way for Rachel to get her groove back?
AFTERNOON DELIGHT won the Best Director award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Director Jill Soloway was one of the writers and producers of TV’s SIX FEET UNDER, a show that deftly balanced the comedy of everyday life with the darkness that comes from dealing with death. This film, too, has both comedic and dark elements, but while critics have praised the Soloway for this bold effort, audiences haven’t been so enamoured. Perhaps they see themselves in Rachel and Jeff. For me, I would have liked the film more if it would have stayed in the comedy realm.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 31:35.)