' Cinema Romantico: Afternoon Delight

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Afternoon Delight

“How do I complain,” Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a reluctant housewife asks her therapist, “when women in Darfur walk fifteen miles to get water and are raped along the way?” It’s a variation of a query that would likely be tagged on Twitter with the somewhat disingenuous hashtag #firstworldproblems. She is a trim mom in a lovely house in a tony neighborhood. So why bring up Darfur within the context of her own neurotic existence? To lessen her sense of guilt? To prove that she cares? Or is she actually in touch enough to note the inanity of her existential crisis compared to the, as they say, grand scheme of things?

It’s definitely not the last one. Why else would she invite a stripper to live with she and her app-inventing husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) and their young son? This is what happens when in a potentially misguided effort to solve their six month sex drought they go to a strip club to reinvigorate eroticism, or something. There Rachel gets a private dance from McKenna (Juno Temple) and before long Rachel has staked out a coffee truck outside the club all in an effort to be besties with this adult dancer. And when McKenna winds up homeless, Rachel offers their spare bedroom as a place to crash.


Clearly McKenna is destined to become the convenient bomb that inevitably blows up the non-storybook life of Rachel and Jeff. As the film progresses we realize their marriage has not only broken down sexually but also communicatively. They are two people unable to articulate where things went wrong and apparently unwilling to try and patch them back up. It’s more than a little reminiscent of “Little Children” and its suburban marital stagnation, although that film’s protagonist, Kate Winslet’s Sarah Pierce, was more cognizant of her stasis and failure to motivate her own way out of it. Rachel remains in a form of denial, lying to her therapist and installing a stripper as her nanny.

Hahn is best known as a comic actress and Temple, as I have noted before, has the market cornered on naïve waifs, though McKenna is a far less naïve here. She has a grasp of her place in the world, in spite of what that place may be, and is both more honest with herself and open with her sexuality. Still, Temple is playing more of a symbol than a fully-realized individual, and saddled with a resolution that more or less leaves her tossing in the wind. Considering her occupation, the film trends toward an obvious tipping point and it arrives in a rather sensationalistic manner via parallel stories – the wives getting together to drink and gossip, the husbands getting together to drink and play poker. Each event devolves rapidly and then they combine to combust melodramatically, leaving Rachel as the martyr of Silver Lake.

At this point, it’s as if Jill Soloway, the writer/director who has had a clear vision, does not know quite what to do. She runs Rachel right off the rails and I can’t help but wonder if she might have liked to leave her there, figuratively tossing in the wind along with McKenna. Instead, Rachel rebounds, normalcy returns, sex resumes, and everyone goes back to forgetting about the plight of Darfur.

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