Afternoon Delight (★★★)

afternoon_delight_ver2I’ve talked about this a few times before, but it’s always nice to see a previously under utilized actor or actress get a chance to shine in a leading role. This time around, it’s Kathryn Hahn who gets to be more than a comedic supporting player. She’s the absolute anchor in the new dramedy Afternoon Delight, an often bittersweet film that showcases just how good Hahn can be with a juicy role. Josh Radnor also gets to do some different work than usual in a prime supporting role, while Juno Temple is sort of playing the “Juno Temple” role once again, though she’s used effectively here. The film is very much about these three individuals, but Hahn absolutely owns the screen. This is the type of movie that shows what kind of talent she has. Hahn’s always been a go to comedic actress, but she’s never gotten a lead role to play with in this way, so it was a pleasure to watch her take the ball and run with it. Writer/director Jill Soloway doesn’t always hit the right notes with her writing and direction, but she does succeed more often than not. The mostly effectively told story, coupled with Hahn’s performance, makes this easy to recommend.

For Rachel (Hahn), living a comfortable life as a wealthy California housewife isn’t enough. Her husband Jeff (Radnor) invents apps and recently had his company merge with a bigger one, leading him to constantly be on his phone working, while Rachel has long since given up on her career dreams. They don’t have any spark in their relationship anymore, and it’s making her just sort of go through the motions in life. Neither seem happy, but neither one of them wants to do anything about it, especially in terms of improving their now non-existant sex life. When Rachel’s therapist Lenore (Jane Lynch) proves unhelpful, her friend Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair) tells her that she should go to a strip club with Jeff instead. Intrigued, Rachel and Jeff join Stephanie and her husband on an excursion and find it a big failure. At the same time though, Rachel finds herself intrigued by the stripper (Temple) and starts to befriend her. Her name is McKenna, and before long Rachel has her living in their large house, trying to save her from a life of stripping and prostitution while pseudo-employing her as a nanny. Rachel may be trying to help McKenna, but she’s also fascinated with her life, so much so that it might wind up hurting her marriage with Jeff more than helping it.

Afternoon-Delight_510x317Kathryn Hahn is easily at her best here, getting to not just play up her comedic skills, but also going to some surprisingly dark dramatic places too. There’s one scene in particular where a drunken Rachel begins confessing things to her girlfriends, and Hahn is top notch. Here and there the script fails her, but her performance is always on the mark. Between her self deprecating humor and the quiet desperation and sadness that she shows off, Hahn actually delivers one of the better leading lady performances of the year so far. Juno Temple, as mentioned above, is playing the sort of character that she’s played before, but she gets to highlight a little more heart than normal. Temple is solid, but it’s not the sort of revelatory performance that you get from Hahn. Josh Radnor is underused, but he gets to play a part very different from the kind of role he usually writes himself. Radnor makes you want to see more of his character, but obviously the focus is on Hahn. The other supporting players include the aforementioned Jane Lynch and Jessica St. Clair, plus Annie Mumolo and Michaela Watkins, among others, but Hahn steals the show.

Filmmaker Jill Soloway makes her feature debut here after a career spent writing on television, and despite some hiccups, it’s a mostly successful introduction to cinema. Her direction never calls attention to itself, but she handles her cast well. Her writing is where she hits both her highest and lowest points. I say that because she takes a well worn premise and tries to go in a different direction with it, but doesn’t go the whole way through. There’s a brilliant scene where Rachel goes with McKenna on a “job”, but at the same time, the final scenes play it way too safe. She also seems to wind up suggesting that mid day sex is a cure all (hence the title) without really selling you as to why, but maybe that was just something that I found odd. Soloway will only get better from here though, so hopefully her sophomore feature will be one to really get excited about.

Despite those few shortcomings, Afternoon Delight is still a very solid dramedy that showcases Kathryn Hahn in a way that we’ve never been lucky enough to see before. She’s reason enough on her own to check this flick out, but the movie on its own warrants a look. Don’t expect the film to be the best one you’ll see all year, but it’s definitely worthy of a recommendation…

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