A housewife stuck in a suburban rut seeks to spice up her life. Sound familiar? Perhaps. But, the 2013 Sundance film Afternoon Delight deserves a deeper examination. The film stars Kathryn Hahn (Crossing Jordan, Girls) as Rachel, a suburban housewife living in Los Angeles. She is a dutiful mother to her toddler daughter and a committed wife to husband Jeff (Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother). It’s clear, though, that restlessness is just under the surface as Rachel visits regularly with psychologist Lenore (Jane Lynch, GLEE) and finds little solace in Lenore’s guidance.
As a young, hipster mother living in the City of Angels, Rachel is expected to partake in school events, fundraisers, and social gatherings. The motherhood clique feels like a high school clique all its own with mothers taking the form of friend or frenemy. Michaela Watkins (Saturday Night Live, The Back-Up Plan) stands out as Queen Bee mother Jennie. Surrounded by this lifestyle, Rachel doesn’t necessarily want to leave her suburban life behind, she just feels like there should be more.
On a whim, Rachel visits a strip club with her husband and a few friends where she meets stripper and prostitute McKenna (Juno Temple, Atonement, The Dark Knight Rises). Rachel develops a desire to understand McKenna and help her escape her wayward life. When the opportunity presents itself, Rachel offers McKenna a place to stay (her home) and a job (babysit her daughter). Rachel tries to connect to McKenna with varying results. At times, their bond grows, and it is Rachel’s own insecurities that create obstacles for the pair.
Afternoon Delight is a brave sort of film, which means that it takes risks with varying results. It’s a comedy, but it tries to ground itself deeply in its characters. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, and it walks the line between comedy and drama, while not becoming a dramedy either. It sort of carves out its own space. The climactic scene, which cuts between a girls’ night at a friend’s house and a boys’ poker night at Rachel’s house deserves accolades. Those kinds of well-acted and well-edited scenes make the film stand out as a modern examination of what it means to be a wife and mother in suburbia.
Through the examination of Rachel and her circle of friends, writer and director Jill Soloway manages to create a fairly fresh, modern perspective on motherhood. Sundance agreed. Soloway was given the Best Director Award at the 2013 festival.
If the premise of Afternoon Delight appeals to you, add this one to your list!