Afternoon Delight (Secular Jewish Self Hatred, With Strippers!)

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Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight is intelligent and funny, full of strong comic cast members doing impressive things with painful dramatic moments; but any story predicated on the dissatisfaction of a high-end hipster housewife is going to be full of the kind of questions that make you identify and judge in equal measure. It’s a mix of these responses that make Afternoon Delight feel so substantial, and that’s a big thing to say for a movie about inviting a homeless stripper to live with you.

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is absorbed by generalized discontent when her friend (Upright Citizen, Jessica St. Clair) invites her on a husband/wife double date to a strip club. The husbands pay for private dances for their wives and when Rachel gets hers, she’s aroused for the first time in a while—and it’s complicated. Her arousal gives way to a mix of pity and obligation to the dancer who “was given to her like a present.” So Rachel struggles for excuses to be around the dancer, finally inviting her to live with her family when the girl gets evicted.

Juno Temple drops her accent to play “full service sex worker” McKenna, but her nymphet shtick is still in full swing. McKenna recasts the pickiness of her striper colleagues as immaturity—sure they say they don’t sleep with the clientele but what are those girls so stuck up about? She still sends money home to mom, making her work and her family life sound sad and wayward. Rachel triumphantly reports McKenna’s nanny-like employment to her Jewish Community Center friends, omitting her last place of work. Ironically, this is the fact that transforms Rachel’s social work into mushy faux-martyrdom. It’s a rescue mission, but Rachel’s unmoored so the more she “saves” the girl the more she loses her shit and threatens the stability of the couples around her.

All the actors have a field day in Afternoon Delight, not the least of which is star Hahn. She plays it ambivalent, building up the impression that Rachel sees McKenna as the flipside of her own privileged misery—and helping the girl might be a way to atone for the stifling ingratitude she feels despite the ease of lifestyle. Jane Lynch is a reliably ineffectual lesbian therapist and a funny foil to McKenna, the strip club “healer.” Josh Radnor kills it as Rachel’s semi-present dad and husband—patient enough to wait out their sexual discord but a participant in his wife’s discontent. Really it's Hahn’s movie, and her eventual breakdown—a riff about the crushing importance of memories you could lose in “the cloud” (the internet) that’s really about the fleeting nature of happiness—is the real cherry on top.

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