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Kathryn Hahn is incredible in the terrible 'Afternoon Delight'

The sex-driven "Afternoon Delight" turns weirdly reactionary in its final stretch, but does feature a star-making turn from character actor Kathryn Hahn.

Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn play a hooker and a wealthy mom in "Afternoon Delight."  Credit: Film Arcade Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn play a hooker and a wealthy mom in "Afternoon Delight."
Credit: Film Arcade

‘Afternoon Delight’
Director: Jill Soloway
Stars: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s an unusual tic in movies that if one appears to be sex-positive and progressive, it will ultimately turn reactionary and borderline conservative. In “Afternoon Delight,” it’s never completely clear why harried thirtysomething mom Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) rescues then employs as nanny to her young son a troubled stripper known as McKenna (Juno Temple), whom she met while getting a joke lapdance. But for the longest time it certainly doesn’t look like this troubled girl exists solely to help our upper middle class lead through a rough patch, to be unceremoniously discarded soon as she’s served her purpose. Surely, this movie — written and directed by TV producer and showrunner Jill Soloway, a legend among female performers — would be smarter than that.

It’s not, but the possibility that it might not be — that the film won’t succumb to a third act shift that ruins everything that came before — gives it the illusion of quality. For awhile it’s not a product of cloistered wealth but also a lampoon of it. Rachel opens the film with first world problem guilt, pointing out to her therapist (Jane Lynch) that women getting raped in Darfur have actual issues. Rachel has minor, but still hurtful ones. Her marriage to a spineless manboy (Josh Radnor) has turned sexless. She’s found herself stuck hanging with other, far more controlling moms.

McKenna arrives to help her — partly to make her feel charitable, partly to give her sex tips and encourage the mid-day dalliances immortalized in the titular song. But the film treats her without judgment, and seems to admire her, on some level, for being brave enough to use her assets for financial gain (modest though it may be). It turns on her, in an unexpected and cruel fashion — crueler, surely, than even if the film had been made by a chauvinistic man.

And yet the tension before this collapse — will it punish McKenna and, if not, where on earth will the film go? — is palpable, and Soloway has a terrific sense of humor. Throwaway lines and insights abound. The big set piece takes a cliche — boys' night out looks fun, girls' night out looks strident — and switches it up, with a wine-soaked Rachel leading everyone in a hilariously tasteless jaunt about abortions they had in their slutty 20s.

It also has Hahn, a hugely talented up-and-comer, groping Jennifer Aniston while stealing “We’re the Millers.” Thrust from supporting to lead, she gives an alert, alive performance where every one of her constant thoughts makes it to the face in consistently engaging ways. She and the Jill Soloway of the first two-thirds deserve better.

 
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