Writer-director Jill Soloway does for Kathryn Hahn (Revolutionary Road) what Paul Feig did for Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and given a very naturally funny lady a leading role – albeit, Wiig did co-write herself a part in the 2011 film. Hahn is a total triumph as bored, affluent Jewish housewife Rachel who has access to everything she desires but is just not happy. An exploration of ‘money can’t buy happiness’ here, Afternoon Delight certainly pours cold water on the supposed domestic bliss of the middle-class, stay-at-home mum. It’s a little darker and more poignant than Desperate Housewives, but it has the same destructive nature at play, with Hahn in the driver’s seat.
Thirtysomething mother-of-one and housewife Rachel (Hahn) is fed up having to attend the local Jewish social function scene and living the ‘perfect’ Silverlake lifestyle in LA. With her kid in school and hubby Jeff (Josh Radnor) always busy developing his apps, she needs therapy and something to spice things up a little – especially in her love life.
On a whim, Rachel, Jeff and another happily married couple (well played by Jessica St. Clair and Keegan Michael Key) decide to visit a downtown strip joint, where a tipsy Rachel gets a lap dance from McKenna (Juno Temple). Fascinated by the young stripper’s supposed carefree and exotic lifestyle, Rachel invites her into her life and then her home, thinking McKenna could be a project for her to ‘save her soul’. The explosive consequences open up all the cracks with Rachel’s idyllic existence that she’s been hiding away from.
Soloway’s writing pedigree (Six Feet Under and United States of Tara) stands her in excellent stead to produce a harrowingly funny and nuanced comedy drama that strikes at the heart of any bored individual dreaming of change. The plot does initially sound farfetched – stripper and housewife bond, but Soloway avoids the clichés with both Rachel and McKenna, creating fully rounded and intriguing characters who give and take from each other, and never go by the book. The humour is bittersweet at times and ironic at others as each woman tries to understand the other, emphasised by scenarios that put each one out of their comfort zone.
Hahn rides the emotional rollercoaster that is Rachel with full aplomb, cultivating with a wonderfully drunken rendition of self-loathing at the end in front of shocked and anxious girlfriends – similar to Wiig’s meltdown in Bridesmaids. This is Hahn’s time to shine in the leading girl role, and it’s a long time coming to reveal her as a tour de force in the superior ‘chick flick’ genre, but well worth the wait and the right material.
In addition, Temple does well to not stereotype McKenna, except for the slutty Barbie pink image and obvious professional mindset. However, the hilarious supporting standout performance prize goes to Glee’s Jane Lynch as lesbian therapist Lenore who has a surprise in store for Rachel (and us) at the end of the ordeal that brings tears to the eyes.
Female comedy drama is burning bright in recent years, with storylines that drive to the heart of real women’s issues. Soloway’s Afternoon Delight builds a comical (if generally unlikely) premise for all those issues to be addressed in the modern-day pressure cooker to have and do it all. Afternoon Delight is also the pitch-perfect morning, afternoon or evening viewing for any stay-at-home-mum who gets the ‘grass is always greener’ speech from her working sisters. There are only so many coffee mornings a girl can stomach…