Afternoon Delight (London Film Festival 2013)
The one-idea synopsis of Afternoon Delight is vaguely intriguing: middle-class woman turns a stripper into her surrogate daughter. Frustratingly, director and writer Jill Solloway is content with leaving the premise on its own, without proper exploration or fleshing out characters.
Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is introduced to the viewer through awkwardly inserted therapy sessions; the doctor (Jane Lynch) learns of Rachel’s sexless marriage with Jeff (Josh Radnor), forming a midlife crisis flopping into a half-asleep malaise. Of course, these scenarios are played out with stoic laziness, as if the actors warming up for another, more challenging drama on a different set.
To spice up their relationship, the couple visit a strip club; Rachel receives a lapdance from McKenna (Juno Temple), a supposedly 19-year-old stripper. Within five minutes of screen time, McKenna is living in the pair’s home. The concept is gobsmackingly contrived, only receiving open questioning in the final act in time for a final denouement.
That convoluted narrative is bizarre on its own, but exacerbated by empty characters who exist only as Sundance tropes. Solloway reveals inklings of authorial intent, with a few early bathroom scenes keen to promote the ugliness of the human body (and psyche). However, the stilted dialogue is heavy-handed, as painfully demonstrated during an unwise tonal shift into shakey-cam, improvised melodrama. Rachel is painted as a hypocritical moralist for an inability to treat her young houseguest as a real person, yet Temple’s few lines of dialogue exemplify a walking, talking caricature.
Hahn’s protagonist is unable to explain her behaviour to her friends, husband and therapist – at least how her extreme, unpredictable sympathy towards a stranger extends beyond a cliched midlife crisis. I sense Solloway is also unsure. Near the end, I looked around; most critics were slumped with bored disinterest, apart from one guy checking his phone.
Afternoon Delight is part of the London Film Festival’s “Laugh” strand. Screening information can be found here.
United States of America
99 mins approx