Thursday, 30 January 2014
Jill Soloway // 2013 // 95 mins
Unsatisfied with a lacklustre life that consists of school events, therapy and not having sex with her husband, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) attempts to revitalise up her work, home and sex life when she invites homeless lap dancer McKenna (Juno Temple) to stay with her family as a live-in nanny. Rachel hopes to fulfil her humanitarian desires by helping McKenna turn her life around, but the young self-titled 'sex worker' seems to enjoy her provocative lifestyle. Despite seamlessly settling into Rachel's world, McKenna's lack of desire to turn her life around proves problematic as their arrangement threatens to disrupt the comfortable lifestyle that Rachel and her friends have become accustomed to.
Afternoon Delight is a confused film, one that never quite settles on a specific tone and instead occupies an odd space somewhere between an intense character drama and frothy sex comedy. The plot holds a lot of potential and could have played out in a number of different ways, but the dramatic story that this film has at it's heart is one that should have been pushed much further. Light comedic moments are always welcome in a dramatic story but here the jokes can distract from more serious aspects of the story and blur the blur the line between what is being played for laughs and what is being played for drama. It's this badly measured balance of the two tones that hold Afternoon Delight back from being something great. All of the pieces were there, they just weren't assembled properly.
This is a problem caused simply by a script that doesn't feel ready. A series of tweaks to particular scenes could have really elevated the film because it has a fun, engaging concept and some great actors bringing it to life. When the comedy works it really does work, but there are a few crucial scenes that use humour when they would be much more effective if the writers had simply had more faith in their characters and actors and allowed them to thrive on more intense and potentially darker aspects of the story. One scene in particular that stands out as suffering because of the screenplay is where Rachel and her friends have a ladies wine night while there husbands play poker, and as the two nights are intercut with one another neither the writing or the editing establishes a solid rhythm. This leads to the tone of each event becoming unclear and the scene as a whole being hard to invest in or engage with, made all the more frustrating by it being an integral part of the plot.
What makes the under-developed script more disappointing is the fact that the cast is delivering solid performances here. Juno Temple is perfect as McKenna and once again gives her all, despite this being very familiar territory for the young actress. She is charming and seductive and a joy to watch as always. Hahn does a great job of leading the film and delivers a stunning dramatic performance that is complemented by her character dry wit which is delivered perfectly. Unfortunately when Rachel gets her big emotional breakthrough (or breakdown), Hahn is disserviced by the unsure tone of the script which leaves us confused as to whether we should be laughing at/with her or crying with/for her. Where the other characters are fairly one-dimensional, Rachel is supposed to be a layered, flawed protagonist that the viewer can relate to, but the writing just does not allow Hahn to convey this woman to the best of her abilities. In a much quieter role is Josh Radnor as Rachel's distant husband Jeff who isn't really given a lot to do, but does it well while Jane Lynch steals her few scenes as an eccentric but well-meaning therapist Lenore.
Afternoon Delight is a slice of harmless fun that is entertaining enough but fails to live up to its potential. Some deeply engaging performances become squandered by a lack of faith in the material by the writers, who compensate with jokes that feel out of place. The chemistry between Temple and Hahn is wonderful and the pair deserve a much deeper script than they had to work with. For a film about a woman who takes drastic measures to spruce up her lifestyle Afternoon Delight plays it far too safe to ever truly succeed.