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Friday, August 30, 2013
MOVIE REVIEW Afternoon
The Real Bored Housewife Of Silver Lake, California
Kathryn Hahn as Rachel in Jill Soloway's comedy-drama "Afternoon Delight".
The Film Arcade
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
The Starland Vocal Band aren't on the soundtrack of Jill Soloway's comedy-drama
"Afternoon Delight"; strangely there isn't enough sun in Silver Lake, California
for the band's sunny, suggestive lyrics in their namesake song. Robin
Thicke's summer misogyny song "Blurred Lines" is likewise absent. Yet
songs could respectively represent Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and McKenna (Juno
Temple), women of different generations who meet in a strip bar in this city
in Los Angeles County. Rachel is a forty-something housewife with a son
and husband Jeff (Josh Radnor), a self-involved "app"-creator whose head is
buried in his iPhone. Ms. Hahn does well portraying a truncated character,
as does Ms. Temple.
"Afternoon Delight" begins with an implication that Rachel has psychological
issues, tying them in a seemingly good marriage to the sole issue of sex.
Sex with Jeff is infrequent. Rachel is bored and dissatisfied, she says to
a self-absorbed shrink (Jane Lynch) with her own problems. Rachel's
blithely callous husband adds to her insecurity by insulting his tomboyish wife,
implicitly calling her sexless or androgynous. "Men wear those for masks when
they rob banks," Jeff says of a half-naked Rachel's pantyhose. This early
limiting and defining of Rachel in sexual terms as a woman who is troubled
solely because her sexual needs are unmet puts the film (and Rachel) in a corner
before it truly starts.
When Rachel reluctantly visits a strip club Jeff, not Rachel, requests that
21-year-old McKenna give Rachel a private lap dance on her behalf. The film obfuscates
Rachel's feelings during the lap dance McKenna gives. Does Rachel enjoy
it? Is she curious? The quick-cutting during the lap dance scene is
a conceit, depicting Rachel as less a complex figure than a stereotypically
prudish domesticated older woman literally rubbing up against an equally
stereotypically "wild", feral-like, youthful stripper. These are the
shallow, misogynistic Madonna/whore poles to which Rachel and McKenna are
We know little about McKenna other than that she's merely the functional film
device fodder that sparks Rachel's behavior. McKenna is supposed to be a
metaphor for freedom, liberation, sexually or otherwise. Soon after that
lap dance, Rachel who has been married for years, invites McKenna to live with
her and Jeff. "I want to help you," Rachel says to McKenna, but she is
truly talking to herself. There's a void, one mostly unspoken of in the film except
in one encounter, one suggesting that Rachel views McKenna as the second child she
never had, which makes one scene in the film a mildly suggestive, perhaps
uncomfortable nod to mother-daughter
In any case, "Afternoon Delight" depicts its women as plastic bodied or
card-boarded. Either they are nags, hags, "too Jewish", group-thinkers or
licentious. There's little variance, though McKenna's oddly maternal
side emerges during a scene where the awkward Rachel, like a child to sexual
awakening, is an invited voyeur to one of McKenna's sexual escapades.
Yet the film shies away from Rachel's inner feelings at some junctures. Before this, Ms. Soloway has made Rachel a self-absorbed wanderer in banality.
Rachel, by the way, has "Jewish angst" and is resistant to the traditions of her
faith. She frequently chides a fellow Jewish friend (Annie Mumolo), and I
wonder if there is some self-loathing being exhibited by the director herself,
who is also Jewish.
In some ways Ms. Soloway, who also wrote the film, parodies the lives of
entitled, cliquish white L.A. housewives whose "first world" issues feel like a
burden to them. In one scene Rachel speaks tonelessly about African women
being repeatedly raped while fetching water. It wasn't funny to me and it
felt like a blunt and lazy effort to get laughs. There's a mumblecore surface to "Afternoon
Delight" that eventually explodes into zaniness and desperation with an
overwrought melodramatic climax -- one you could see coming from a week away --
followed by a climax to end movie climaxes.
There are several sexual episodes in "Afternoon Delight" but sex doesn't
necessarily make a film sexy. Jeff, who carouses with his similarly
stereotypical male buddies -- those who wear the demeanor of having been
"whipped" into line by their spouses -- is a pathetic husband, inviting a
chaotic situation by consent. He indicts Rachel, ignores Rachel and
berates Rachel when things aren't quite perfect. It's her fault by
inference, the story goes. "Afternoon Delight" lets Jeff off the hook, and too easily.
Communication is the biggest elephant in relationships, and Rachel and Jeff
don't get to really talking to each other until the metaphorical elephant
defecates all over them.
Ms. Soloway, who wrote several episodes of "Six Feet Under", doesn't communicate
the imbroglio (or for that matter, the clarity) of her Silver Lake protagonists with sufficient conviction.
The cloudy, cool and often vacant "Afternoon Delight" shifts its goalposts as a film.
Is it Rachel's punchless marriage in general that triggers Rachel's actions?
Is it purely the sexual bereft and alienation she feels? Is it Twitter?
Is it technology (maybe.) Is it more? Moreover, McKenna apparently
has no male relationships beyond her clients. I wonder how the film would
have been had Ms. Soloway gave McKenna that background and then contrasted her
and Rachel's existences. Sadly, the director's film grows into cliché and
stays comfortable on that footing.
Some of "Afternoon Delight" is oversimplified even as it attempts to be
something more. The sex angle of the film is presented in a comical and
arousing manner but because the sex is shot
from the perspective of a woman we assume has psychosexual baggage it provides
Ms. Soloway cover from meaningfully exploring the absence or presence of sex in
a marital household with children. This exploration would have made for more
interesting, provocative territory. Instead, gimmickry and half-opened
eyes rule the day. What it is that makes married people withdraw?
Surely it is more than just the lack of interest in routine sex after a certain
point. Isn't it? Ironically Rachel's therapist hints at what the
answer is, and the fear behind it.
By comparison "Eyes Wide Shut" may have been viewed as misogynist, and it was.
A director with misogynist baggage in many of his films, Stanley Kubrick explored, with
more depth and with Arthur Schnitzler's help, the machinations
of dreams abut sex and betrayal albeit mainly through Tom Cruise's character,
also a shallow type, however. Interestingly, in its very title "Afternoon Delight" suggests a
dream, a dessert, a paradise that, in this film at least, a housewife can find, while the husband is
away. Strippers it turns out, are the new pool boy.
Ms. Soloway's film is smart enough to note the double standard of men and women
when it comes to sex. There are women who dabble or explore
desire only to get so close to the edge of ecstasy in a man's sexist world.
Some get paid for it. Conversely, there are men who get to live out their own sexual
desires and opportunities, right or wrong -- with women being blamed for those
adventures and misadventures in the process. The men of "Afternoon
Delight" largely govern
its sexual parameters and the terms of engagement, even in scenes where the
women appear to have the upper hand.
Finally, there's a dishonesty and expediency in associating mental turmoil with
a woman's need to explore sexually. For it is the very same sexist
argument male scientists and others used in the preceding two centuries when
trying to "understand" or grasp women and their sexuality. Yet Ms. Soloway
is not immune to this either, where "Afternoon Delight" is concerned.
Also with: Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Makenna Cotton, Sawyer Ever,
Suzy Nakamura, Josh Stamberg, Keegan-Michael Key, Eugene Cordero, John Kapelos.
"Afternoon Delight" opened today in New York City and Los Angeles, and
expands its release in several cities across the U.S. in the coming weeks.
The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong
sometimes graphic sexual content, language and some drug use. The film's
running time is one hour and 37 minutes.
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