Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a thirtysomething mother of a small son, married to Jeff (Josh Radnor), and seeing a psychiatrist (Jane Lynch) about her general mental malaise. Trouble is, she doesn't really want to open up about any of this, and as the shrink says, she can tell her everything is fine, it's her money, but with psychiatry it does help to relate your issues if you wish to make any progress. That prompts Rachel to be more honest, as she admits she feels her early promise never developed into a career and her relationship with Jeff has sputtered out since they no longer have any sex life to speak of, and she spends most of her time either looking after her boy or mixing with the other mothers: she just isn't fulfilled.
So what better way to kick off a new phase in her life than visiting a strip club? That was the unusual step the protagonist took in television producer and writer turned director Jill Soloway's Afternoon Delight, which did not feature a tremendous amount of any delight, afternoon or otherwise. Her apparent purpose was to make audiences feel ill at ease, then go on to have a sense of satisfaction about the way things had resolved themselves in the fiction, fair enough, plenty of stories took the form of putting the viewer through the wringer before rewarding them with a happy ending of sorts, only Soloway was more subtle than that and if anything, more difficult to read. Were her characters more symbolic than actual, living and breathing individuals?
Certainly Rachel seemed to be encapsulating some modern theme of how difficult it is to attain peace of mind, though in the now clichéd form of the upper middle class person achieving what many would be content with only to discover it wasn't enough. How she went about tackling that was less conventional, however, as once she is at that strip club - supposedly this will revitalise her marriage, according to best pal Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair) anyway - she receives a lapdance from one of the girls there, McKenna (Juno Temple), which far from making her more keen to jump into bed with Jeff, actually leaves her discomfited, which is how you imagine Soloway wanted her audience. But further than that, fascinated too, just as Rachel becomes captivated by his stripper.
To the extent that she makes friends with her by contriving to meet with McKenna daily at a coffee stand, then inviting her into her home to live as a lodger, the rent being that she nanny the son. It was a premise not strong because it was high concept, but because it wasn't developing in any way that you could understand logically; it wasn't only that McKenna has a troubled past with addictions and poor parenting, it was the thought of introducing a sex worker (as Rachel likes to call her) into what would supposedly be the nuclear family of the twenty-first century, almost as if this was a sitcom pilot somehow expanded to feature length - the television roots showing in the writer-director's imaginings. In truth, McKenna remained a twisted wish fulfilment personality rather than a believable person, though that was not for want of trying, whether by the cast or the director.
Hahn's paradoxically lost soul, who should have a firm anchor in her existence but is bobbing around largely untethered until she has the prostitute as a project to work on, was compelling, true, even if you could see she was suffering for reasons that most of the rest of the world wouldn't even consider relevant, yet the manner in which we were able to sympathise with Rachel pointed to a more universal quality for anyone who has taken a long look at the stage they've reached and pondered if it was anything they ever wanted from their formative hopes and dreams. The First World problems detailed here were made more concrete thanks to the bizarre results they bring about, though Soloway makes McKenna the only character who is halfway happy thanks to her free and easy lifestyle: if anyone else here considers sex misery is the consequence. That is until a polite but pointed rejection (the sole convincing item in McKenna's arc) leads her to fall off the wagon; somehow after the worst has happened, they can easily move on. Perverse, but memorable. Music by Craig Wedren.