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Afternoon Delight
★★★★☆
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room

Afternoon Delight, the feature film directing début of television writer/producer Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under, The United States of Tara), tells the story of Rachel, a middle-aged housewife who invites a stripper into her family’s home, ostensibly to work as a nanny for her young son. Rachel makes this unusual choice for many complex reasons, which Soloway explores with a subtle, observational curiosity rather than with sermonizing or broad caricature. This film joins a growing list of recent independent pictures that are more interested in examining thorny issues and intricate themes than in milking their premisses for every possible laugh, often at the expense of their characters’ integrity. Independent cinema usually steers clear of stories about overprivileged white yuppies and their problems, because the companies that release movies fear audiences won't be able to relate, or that affluent, comfortable characters can't have any “real” problems.  But Afternoon Delight exquisitely renders feelings nearly everyone who has been in a long-term romantic relationship has had: stagnancy, complacency and the gnawing angst of, “is this all there is?” There are many movies about men getting the seven-year itch but few about the similar feelings women experience--and with women, the itch in question is far harder to put your finger on and therefore more interesting material for a film. Rachel’s itch certainly beings with feeling sexually unfulfilled, but it quickly spreads deeper into her psyche, fueling and internalizing her dissatisfaction. Whereas a man might simply go scratch the itch, Rachel picks at it like a scab until it peels it off and opens a wound.

The film scrutinizes emotions that can be difficult to understand, but that we all recognize when we see them played out. Kathryn Hahn's layered and emotionally raw lead performance as Rachel is so honest it gives the movie its heart, its soul, its backbone and its teeth. Hahn is best known for minor comedic turns in mediocre ensemble movies and TV shows, and even her excellent dramatic supporting role in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road didn't prepare me for what she achieves here. Her performance makes this film exceptional every bit as much as Cate Blanchett's does for Blue Jasmine. Hahn and Soloway probe deeply into the uncomfortable emotions most of us repress, and although Rachel's feelings cause her to make questionable decisions, our sympathetic connection to her never wavers. Juno Temple plays McKenna, the stripper Rachel “rescues,” with a straightforward frankness and just enough of a lost, innocent quality to help us understand what Rachel sees in her.  Jane Lynch, Michaela Watkins and Annie Mumolo provide comic relief that never upstages or distracts from the central drama, and John Kapelos, a mainstay of John Hughes’s early films who we don't see nearly enough of onscreen these days, has a particularly memorable scene. Soloway has been an outspoken critic of the film business and the product it churns out, so its a little surprising, despite its edgy premiss, how traditional her first feature is, both in terms of its values and structure. However, this surprise is most welcome as the success of Afternoon Delight lies in the patient attention to detail in both its writing and its lead performance.

Directed by Jill Soloway
Produced by Jennifer Chaiken and Sebastian Dungan

Written by Jill Soloway

With: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Josh Stamberg, John Kapelos, Keegan Michael Key, and Annie Mumolo

Cinematography: Jim Frohna
Editing: Catherine Haight
Music: Craig Wedren

Runtime: 95 min
Release Date: 21 January 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color