||Apparently we’re meant to sympathize with Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), the wealthy but unhappy thirty-something Los Angeles wife whose struggle to “find herself” and revive her bland marriage to an overworked, distant husband is the subject of Jill Soloway’s “Afternoon Delight.” But it’s difficult to care one whit about a woman as irritating and self-absorbed as this one, particularly when she also tries to solve her problems in a way that even the densest viewer can predict will end badly—and when her travails bring little of the promised humor or insight Soloway’s straining for.
Rachel’s husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) is an apps designer so successful that he’s constantly on call and barely has time to talk to his wife, let alone satisfy her sexually. Their family time centers on their adorable little son Logan (Sawyer Ever), while Rachel fills her days (and many evenings, it seems) in talk sessions and various volunteer activities with her clique of friends from the Jewish Community Center, presumably all similarly bored wives, though none of them goes much beyond caricature.
When pressed to stop dissembling about her feelings, Rachel opens up to her therapist Lenore (Jane Lynch), but the lesbian woman has little useful advice to impart. So she takes a suggestion from one of her pals who recommends that she and Jeff visit a gentlemen’s club—or in less gentle terms, a strip joint. He reluctantly agrees and there treats her to a lap dance with young self-described “full-time sex worker” McKenna (Juno Temple). Beguiled by the girl, Rachel returns to the club’s neighborhood later on and finding McKenna in need of a place to stay, offers her their guest room for the night. Though Jeff’s initially taken aback, he eventually agrees to let McKenna stay on as Logan’s nanny, though the girl doesn’t give up her night job, as it were.
Even a complete dope could foresee that this arrangement is bound to fail. Rachel looks upon it as a sort of “Pygmalion” rescue mission, but it’s perfectly clear that she’s more in need of help than the girl (whom on one occasion she accompanies on a visit to one of her customers), and eventually it leads to a breakup not only with Jeff but also with her band of friends after she gets drunk at one of their get-togethers and yammers out a lot of unwelcome observations while McKenna does what she does with one of their husbands and happily admits to them all that she’s a whore, not a nanny. And yet we’re supposed to believe that the experience somehow saves Rachel’s marriage. (It’s certainly not her therapist, who’s shown to be needier than her patient.)
“Afternoon Delight” is a strange combination. On the one hand the portrait of domestic life among these families seems all too genuine, depicting them a bunch of drearily empty-headed time-wasters (the dialogue is utterly vacuous)—and Soloway, working with cinematographer Jim Frohna, gives the action a messy look that feels authentic. But the basic situation never rings remotely true. And the picture is afflicted with Hahn’s frantic, overwrought performance, full of hair-pulling and scrunched-up faces, which makes Rachel one of the most unlikable, silly, abrasive people you’re ever likely to encounter. (One wonders how her husband and son put up with her.) Juno, on the other hand, cuts a credible figure as McKenna, nicely catching the calculation behind the young woman’s invitingly hedonistic exterior. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, isn’t much better than what you’d encounter in a mediocre sitcom, with Lynch engaging in the kind of supposed underplaying which is just disguised overplaying. And technically the picture looks ragged and lacks crispness in the editing.
“Afternoon Delight” does not make for an evening’s pleasure.