Afternoon Delight (2013): Jill Soloway’s Sundance Fest Feature

Despite its title, Afternon Delight is anything but delightful.

One of the weak entries at the 2013 Sundance Film Fest, Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight is-—and feels like–a first, amateurish film, mostly in the negative sense of this term.

One of the advantages of including female directors at Sundance (and other festivals) is that their films, especially debuts, tend to center on women’s stories, a fact that should not be taken for granted. That said, the protagonist of this feature is so self-absorbed and so bizarrely acting that she gets less and less interesting as the tale unfolds.

The very premise is dubious: Why would a seemingly bright and educated femme, such as Rachel, think it is beneficial to her household-—she has a husband and young boy—to bring a dancer (actually a prostitute) into their lives.

It may be unfair to blame the actress, Kathryn Hahn, better known for her TV work (Parks and Recreation, Crossing Jordan), for the film’s various shortcomings, but she certainly doesn’t help matters. Hahn is in almost every scene but she doesn’t give a dominant or compelling performance.

While the lingo is bold (occasionally raunchy), as is the fashion with other women-themed movies these days, the tone is uncertain, and Afternoon Delight cannot decided what kind of movie it needs or wants to be.

A throwback to comedies of the past, we get to meet Rachel’s psychiatrist (Jane Lynch), and it turns out that one of the problems of this femme is sex—-or rather, lack of it.

Bored, Rachel takes her hubby Jeff (Josh Radnor) to a strip joint, where Rachel gets erotically engaged with a young dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple). After that, Rachel frequents the club during the day, and shows good will (and more) by bailing McKenna out of a trouble and inviting her new friend to stay with her family, without consulting Jeff. Soon we learn that McKenna is a professional sex worker, with an honorable list of clients.

Rachel, continuing her senseless behavior, accompanies McKenna to one of her clients (John Kapelos), a kind middle-aged man, but not much happens. Later on, it’s Jeff’s turn to get loose and drunk and vulgar, while playing cards with his friends, but this situation is also uninteresting to behold.

Too much of a TV sit-com, Afternoon Delight is meant as a pseudo-existential commentary on the ways that young frustrated women think, fantasize and act days.

Soloway’s TV origins betray her feature debut: She has contributed as writer and producer to Six Feet Under, United States of Tara, and How to Make It in America.

Overall, Afternoon Delight is so raw (in the name of realism) that it feels like an unfinished work.  The whole film could have benefited from a sharper script, fuller characterization, and more determined point of view.