What starts out as an interesting update on a story of a relationship stuck in a rut quickly spirals into a series of tiresome tropes in Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight.
The retro cherry-topped banana split posters for this film fail to reflect one of its few positive attributes. The self-conscious script is determined to paint a picture of the modern world, with Groupon deals, soy cheese pizzas and Facebook Likes all getting early mentions and going some way to evoke the middle-class bohemian lifestyle of flawed heroine Rachel (Kathryn Hahn). With few genuine friends and a relationship lacking in romance, she’s the perfect example of someone constantly ‘connected’ yet relatively disconnected from society.
Hahn is a funny and watchable in a rare leading role, but her performance falters when she’s made to mourn her post-childbirth figure and the effects of ageing. At the age of 40, she is in enviable shape and it is here that the film begins to lose its authenticity. The contrivances continue when Rachel also decides that the answer to her relationship woes is to visit a strip club, along with partner Jeff (How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor).
It is here that she meets McKenna (Juno Temple) – a stripper and sex worker who Rachel sometimes seems to have more maternal feelings towards than her own son, who is oddly absent throughout. Under the pretence of visiting a coffee truck that she follows on Twitter (told you it was ‘modern’…), Rachel bumps into McKenna again and it’s not long before she has invited the youngster to stay in the family home.
From here on, Afternoon Delight struggles to balance its more comedic moments with a darker exploration of the realities of sex work. Juno Temple succeeds in portraying a character as mesmerising as she is manipulative, but as the winner of last year’s Rising Star award at the BAFTAs it is not unreasonable to want more from her than simply playing the ‘whore’ to Hahn’s ‘Madonna’.
Jane Lynch is sadly underused in her role as a wry and insensitive therapist; meanwhile a drunken rant about abortions missteps the mark between humour and bad taste in a scene which should have been edited out, or at least down, long before this film reached the big screen.
Despite superb performances from the two female leads, there’s little delight to be taken from this underwhelming film which refuses to make the most of its cast and paints women, in particular mothers, in a less than flattering light. A disappointing feature directorial debut from three-time Emmy-nominated TV writer.
Afternoon Delight is released on Friday 28 March, 2014.