An upscale, nonworking mom brings a stripper into her home in hopes of reigniting her sex life and her inner pilot in “Afternoon Delight.”
As this premise plays out, it proves, alas, to be as contrived as it sounds. That's a shame, because some raw, real emotion exists between the plot dots in this debut feature from writer-director Jill Soloway.
Soloway delivers a combination sex farce, mad-housewife journey and site-specific survey of privileged stay-at-home motherhood in this indie semicomedy.
Soloway depicts the setting — Silver Lake on Los Angeles' east side — as a trendy land of charity auctions, ride-through car washes, self-indulgent shrinks and quinoa.
Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a 30-something neighborhood resident, doesn't feel psyched about anything anymore. She hasn't even made a photo album to capture her little boy's first five years. She and her app-inventor husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor), haven't had sex for months.
Hoping to heat up her marital life, Rachel visits a strip club, with Jeff in tow. A lap dance, courtesy of a young stripper and sex worker named McKenna (Juno Temple), stirs something in Rachel.
Before long, Rachel is trying to rescue the waiflike McKenna from a tawdry life. When McKenna becomes homeless, Rachel gives the young woman a spare room and makes her the nanny.
McKenna has more influence on Rachel than vice-versa, and soon Rachel is exploring her libidinous aspects.
But while the wild side tempts Rachel, her old sensibility counterattacks.
While Rachel's adventure leads to a meltdown during a girls' night out — which Soloway intercuts with a guys' night out, showing both genders behaving shabbily — the film isn't shallow. Soloway delivers sharp, funny bits about marriage, privilege, sex, the inability of some women to embrace motherhood and the plight of being a well-off, dynamic woman without a career.
Sadly, Soloway, whose background involves writing and producing for television, has mired these elements in a cliched plot. The phoniness eclipses the smarter material.
McKenna is little more than an age-old device who enters a stagnant household, stirs things up and leaves. Rachel's charity-worker semifriends are mostly one-dimensional neurotics.
An inconsistency of style, too, proves problematic. Shifting between indie-comic and darkish-dramatic modes undermines cohesiveness.
Hahn is impressive both as a comic presence and in her willingness to take her character to unglamorous, unlikable places.
Hahn's Rachel, who has alienated us with her nastier behavior, doesn't get a chance to regain our emotional approval. Instead, Soloway heaps artificial sunshine on her heroine, and in so doing seals this uneven film's status as a nonpleaser.
Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, and Jessica St. Clair
Written and directed by Jill Soloway
Running time 1 hour, 37 minutes