Opens Fri., Sept. 6 at Pacific Place and Sundance. Rated R. 93 minutes.
The Starland Vocal Band is nowhere to be seen (or heard) in Afternoon Delight, so there’s another lost opportunity for the ’70s one-hit group to come back. This Afternoon Delight has more serious fish to fry, even if it’s full of strong comic actors. The movie is arranged around Kathryn Hahn, who—whether parachuting for the length of a story arc into ongoing series such as Parks and Recreation or cutting a bizarre path through Step Brothers—has been threatening to bring her particular brand of funny/weird to center stage for the best part of a decade.
Hahn is allowed to make her mark, and then some, in Afternoon Delight. She plays Rachel, a stay-at-home mom whose disenchanted life is shaken by her encounter with an exotic dancer, McKenna (Juno Temple), during an evening when she and husband Jeff (Josh Radnor, from How I Met Your Mother) double-date with friends at a strip club. (Couples in movies have been known to do this.) McKenna is soon staying at Rachel and Jeff’s place, an awkward situation complicated by McKenna’s sideline as a prostitute. Writer/director Jill Soloway would have us believe that Rachel’s mid-life crisis might accommodate all this and more, and maybe in a better movie it could. Soloway does her best to remind us we’re not watching a pure comedy, as she regularly includes scenes of idle boredom and cringeworthy behavior.
If the film works at all, though, it’s because of the comedy. Anytime Hahn is let off the leash—for instance, at a hen party where she tipsily insists on toasting her friends while staring soulfully into the eyes of each—she’s all skyrockets in flight. There’s also Jane Lynch, stealing a few typically crisp moments as Rachel’s oversharing therapist, and the splendid Michaela Watkins and Jessica St. Clair as friends whose personalities roughly fit the molds of Fran Drescher and Chelsea Handler—though each actress is distinctive enough to break those molds.
As funny as its isolated moments can be, Afternoon Delight opens too many cans of rubber snakes. Soloway seems to be aiming at the kind of observational groove that Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko get in their films, but with some Judd Apatow stirred in. The mix doesn’t quite become Jell-O, and it’s further proof that the plot device of the soulful striptease artiste deserves a break from contemporary movies.