Review: 'Afternoon Delight'

"Afternoon Delight" rides a definite momentum, that, had it been sustained, could have left this as one of the best films of the year. It's also a movie that's all over the place tonally, and a bit unaware of what it's trying to say as it nears the all-important finale. In this complicated world we live in, it's clear a film can embody both these facets of cinema, just as it's certain "Afternoon Delight" will both depress and engage an audience, usually just depending on the minute of the movie you find yourself watching.

The work of first-time director Jill Soloway, this movie starts out hilariously. A little film essay on white privilege and the guilt that follows, "Afternoon Delight" looks to be a satire along the lines of the better Christopher Guest ("Best in Show") work. Rachel (played by the perpetually underrated Kathryn Hahn) is a stay-at-home mom, her husband Jeff (the properly rated Josh Radnor) and her pairing up with their young son Logan to form an idyllic Southern California life. Naturally, in the grand tradition of suburbia, they're both slightly miserable and sleepwalking through the motions. The staid couple heads off to a strip club, you know, to "spice" things up, but disaster follows in the form of exotic dancer McKenna (Juno Temple).

A quick aside on Juno Temple, she's a young actor who just crackles on the screen. She has that "thing", the same odd quirkiness of stalwarts like Heath Ledger and Jessica Chastain before her, transfixing an audience with both her small movements and big reactions. In "Afternoon Delight" she comes off as impossibly damaged, but also as a completely dangerous weapon of destruction, a taut magic trick that sustains every scene she's in. She's a captivating young actor, kudos are due to her here, and it will be fascinating to see her evolution in the years to come.

Where "Afternoon Delights" runs into huge amounts of tonal trouble is about halfway in, when it pivots from dark comedy to dark drama. This sort of move can be pulled off, but the cinematic landscape is littered with the bones of movies that have completely misfired during the transition. Unfortunately, for half an hour or so, "Afternoon Delight" is out there in the desert, wandering around, hopelessly lost. Radnor and Hahn, with a big assist from Temple, are game for portraying hard and painful truths, but there's just no way an audience will be able to emotionally withstand the onslaught. It's the equivalent of your neighbor stopping over with a fifth of tequila at 8am. Too much, fella, too much. It would seem that director Jill Soloway, who is clearly loaded with talent, made all the choices with her film "Afternoon Delight", as opposed to the more precise, sophisticated ones, moves that would have turned the film into a truly clever effort. Solloway, as a director, feels like a person who has been let loose in Target with a $10,000 dollar gift card, but she's only been given 45 seconds to spend it. Chaos ensues. "Afternoon Delight" is a chucked bowling ball in a land of little glass miniatures, and this "bigness" largely defeats Soloway's noble ambitions.

As an intensely interesting film, with great supporting characters like Jane Lynch (as a therapist) and Keegan Michael Key (as a family friend), "Afternoon Delight" is a movie that demands your attention. That it doesn't always quite know what to do with it is disappointing, though not unexpected, given it's somewhat clear that in the process of busting genre here the team also slightly lost their way. Little in-jokes highlight that solid first hour, graciously inviting you into the world, and amazingly coherent musical decisions (I believe musical director Bruce Gilbert deserves the credit) elevate the wallop of everything happening in the picture. That it can't sustain this pace is a bummer, but this could very well be a movie we look back on in a decade to note the copious amounts burgeoning talent held within, just waiting to break through the surface.

SCORE: 6.5 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and uses pepper to spice things up.