Rachel, a lost LA housewife, tries to rescue a stripper named McKenna by taking her in as a live-in nanny.
Every now and then I'll come across a film that has many elements that I genuinely admire, but which still ultimately fails to truly connect with me on all levels. A film with great performances, solid direction, and worthwhile insights that just narrowly ends up missing the mark for me. Jill Soloway's 'Afternoon Delight' is one of those movies. A dramedy about marriage, personal growth, sex, and intimacy, the film offers some interesting characters and observations, but never really brings them all together in a meaningful way. Isolated scenes and interactions are well done, but once the screen fades to black, the script's ultimate conclusions seem a little confused and unfinished, leaving a few previous plot points feeling a bit pointless and incomplete. Marked by increasingly weighty drama, the flick is less of an afternoon delight, and more of an occasionally amusing yet frequently heavy and sometimes frustrating midday distraction.
Stuck in an emotional rut, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) struggles to liven up her fizzling marriage and dull lifestyle. When she meets a young stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple), the bored house wife becomes drawn to her youthful spirit and overt sexuality. In an effort to lend a helping hand, Rachel lets McKenna temporally stay with her, her husband (Josh Radnor), and their young son. As the two women bond and get to know each other more, Rachel starts to let loose and experiment with her life. But when certain aspects of McKenna's profession are revealed, Rachel begins to have second thoughts about her new friend and conflict starts to brew.
Actress Kathryn Hahn has show up in strong supporting roles and amusing bit parts in a wide range of films and TV shows, making memorable appearances in everything from 'Parks and Recreation' and 'Girls' to 'Step Brothers' and 'Wanderlust.' Here, the talented performer finally gets to take center stage. Flexing comedic and impressive dramatic muscles in equal force, Hahn really does a phenomenal job, fully selling all of Rachel's insecurity, frustration, boredom, and confusion. The woman has hit a real roadblock in her personal life, and the story focuses heavily on her attempts to reignite her passions. Throughout all of the character's periodically humorous and serious dilemmas, Hahn's approach is always engaging, perfectly evoking her personal confusion by blurring the line between conflicting emotions in a realistic and natural way.
The supporting cast is also strong, with great turns from Josh Radnor and Juno Temple. Radnor's work oriented Jeff gives the audience a firm understanding of how Rachel's marriage could be in trouble without becoming one-dimensional or too unlikeable. They both have issues and reveal different aspects of themselves that are equally to blame for their relationship problems. Meanwhile, as McKenna, Juno Temple is appropriately sensual, manipulative, volatile, and vulnerable. While it's sometimes hard to pin down her true motivations, there are key moments that hint at her deeper insecurities, and her unique presence mixes things up nicely. Also worthy of special note, is the film's ensemble of female performers who make up Rachel's circle of friends, including Jessica St. Claire, Michaela Watkins, and Annie Mumolo. The group bounces off of each other wonderfully, making their interactions feel effortless.
As a whole, the film is home to a faintly mumblecore style, marked by handheld camera movements and a frequent reliance on improvisation. Director Jill Soloway does a pretty good job of keeping this loose aesthetic cohesive and potent, and there is a genuine cinematic voice throughout her visuals and writing. The movie's opening main title sequence and a later segment that cross-cuts between Rachel and her friends drinking wine and Jeff and his friends playing poker, are especially well done. That latter scene is particularly noteworthy for its effective marriage between improvisational performances, escalating drama, and sometimes uncomfortable camera work, which all work toward a rather dark and unsettling climax.
Unfortunately, as much as I admire many individual aspects of the movie's production and storytelling, the film never really clicks together in the end. Soloway has a lot to say about the female experience and relationships, but her insights and plot points aren't always fleshed out enough. To this end, I never completely bought the idea that Rachel would become so instantly infatuated by McKenna, and the conclusion to their arc felt a bit rushed, unfulfilled, and meaningless. Themes dealing with growth, communication, and intimacy all come across well enough, but the eventual resolution to the protagonist's problems is undercooked and muddled, making previous developments seem rather pointless. Likewise, the movie's mixture of humor and drama doesn't always gel, and there are times when it seems like the filmmakers started off making a lighter kind of comedy but ended up going down a more serious and occasionally heavy and disturbing path.
As a feature length directorial debut, 'Afternoon Delight' is a solid but inconsistant effort. Despite some tonal issues, Jill Soloway does a decent job giving the film a singular voice and style, and actress Kathryn Hahn turns in a fantastic performance. The movie's script tackles several worthwhile ideas related to intimacy, self discovery, and passion, but these concepts never completely come together, leaving the ending feeling rushed and underdeveloped. While its playful title and logline might imply a light sex comedy, this is actually a relatively weighty dramedy, and though the flick isn't likely to leave viewers giddily singing about "sky rockets in flight," it's still worth a rental.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Cinedigm brings 'Afternoon Delight' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase along with a DVD copy. After some warnings and logos, the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. With nice detail, a clean picture, and a fitting style, this is a strong image through and through.
The digital source is essentially artifact free with the exception of some grain-like noise in darker sequences. Clarity is strong throughout, and while some scenes have a comparatively soft look, the majority of the image is sharp and features pleasing depth. Overall saturation can be a bit subdued, and the palette often veers toward a blue and green tinge. With that said, primaries pop nicely in certain wardrobe choices and locations (like the strip club scene). The image is a tad dim in certain shots, but contrast and black levels remain solid.
'Afternoon Delight' features a relatively modest but artistically strong visual style, and this digital transfer offers a technically sound presentation.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, along with optional English subtitles. Subtle but effective, the mix is quiet but still spacious.
Speech is mostly clean and clear, but there are a few scenes where some faint background hissing is audible beneath the dialogue. Though restrained, the film's soundstage still has a pleasing sense of space to it, delicately spreading ambiance and effects throughout the room (birds, traffic, etc.). The main title sequence set inside a car going through a car wash is especially effective, offering subtle texture and nuance in its design work. Score and music selections also feature great fidelity and strong dynamic range, providing some solid low frequency activity when called for (particularly in the strip club scene).
This a primarily dialogue driven film, but the modest yet thoughtful design work here is surprisingly engaging, helping to gently enhance the movie's mood and atmosphere.
Cinedigm has provided a solid collection of supplements, including a commentary and several featurettes. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound and no subtitle options, unless noted otherwise.
'Afternoon Delight' is a decent but uneven directorial debut from filmmaker Jill Soloway. There are some worthwhile insights into relationships and personal growth, and Kathryn Hahn gives a great performance, but the film's themes and plot never fully come together. On the technical front, this disc features a good video and audio presentation that represents the movie's relatively modest style well. A solid commentary and a few interesting featurettes round out the package. Though my ultimate reaction to the film is decidedly mixed, this disc is still worth a rental.