Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jill Soloway's AFTERNOON DELIGHT is a potent, if strange, delight--any time of day

If you're anything like TrustMovies, a new film that features Juno Temple turns immediately into a must-see. And though Ms Temple has one of her best recent roles in AFTERNOON DELIGHT -- a movie that offers a look a modern marriage among the Los Angeles semi-elite -- the real star and driving force of the film is Kathryn Hahn. Ms Hahn is an actress with nearly 50 credits on her resume over a 30-year period, including some popular TV and cable shows, and I believe that she is most often seen in supporting roles. Nothing she has done till now quite matches the opportunity given her here. As with Olivia Wilde in last week's opener Drinking Buddies, Ms Hahn's work in this film would turn the heads of AMPAS, if only its members paid as much attention to intelligent, low-budget films as they do to many of the higher-budget, would-be independents, as well as the lame-brained "blockbusters-for-big-boys."

Written and directed by Jill Soloway (shown at right: this is her first full-length film), Afternoon Delight places us in the mind, body and spirit of its heroine, Rachel, and then slowly lets us watch and experience as she goes to pieces. Ms Hahn, however, is such a fine-yet-tamped-down comedian, as well as a realistic enough actress, that she keeps us entertained and glued to her character throughout, even as we become awfully uneasy about some of Rachel's choices. From the initial scene inside her car as it moves through a car-wash, Rachel is clearly insecure in her life as a stay-at-home mom. In scene after scene, something is always a bit off, yet Ms Hahn (below) handles the acting chores with dry wit and an easy, toss-away manner.

Then, when Rachel, her husband Jeff (a very good Josh Radnor), and another couple go out on a double date to a strip club and Rachel is talked into getting a lap-dance from a stripper named McKenna (played by Ms Temple, below), things begin to change. And not necessarily for the better -- but necessary, all the same.

Ms Soloway seems to know and understand this segment of L.A. society pretty well. She nails it, with humor and satire but also with enough empathy that we don't entirely lose sympathy for these wives/mothers, or for their husbands who maybe have a little too much money but have not, as yet, grown up. This is never truer than the climax of the film, in which polite convention seems irreparably broken and so a price must now be paid.

These scenes skirt melodrama yet stay focused and truthful due to the superb build-up that Soloway has achieved, based strongly on character. Everyone here -- from the husbands (that's Mr. Radnor, above), wives and children to the hooker and her john -- come across as real, even as the juxtaposition of these two sets of characters sometimes seems more than a little bizarre.

Soloway also shows us sex as industry, along with an interesting mix of class and economic differences. (The religion here is mostly Jewish, and Soloways's take on this, too, is both timely and smart.) If the McKenna character proves more a catalyst than anything else, due to smart writing and a sweet, sour, spot-on performance from Ms Temple (above, left), she comes to beautiful and moving life. When she is seen as a friend and helper, this is how she behaves; when treated as a whore, she gives you exactly that.

The movie also possesses an interesting arc: When things are going well -- or at least OK -- for the characters on view, they can seem eminently resistible. It's when things begin to fall apart that they grow more interesting and empathetic. You'll change your mind about a lot of these people as the movie moves onward. By the end, I think, you've be glad to have met them.

Afternoon Delight, from The Film Arcade and running 93 minutes, opens this Friday, August 30, in L. A. (at The Landmark) and New York (at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema. The following week and throughout September, it will roll out to some 20 more cities nationwide. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down.

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