Before they created Transparent, writer-director Jill Soloway made an indie feature about an upper-middle class woman tiptoeing into a world of sexual transgression. Dan Slevin found it intriguing but not essential.
Catching up with #52filmsbywomen is hard enough at the best of times but what do you do when the director of this week’s choice identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronoun “their”? Even though the film you have watched seems, on its merits, to be firmly about the divided nature of women (or the perception of same) and when one watched it one felt that one was seeing a film from a particularly sharp female perspective. I don’t know the answer to this one but I really want it to boost my stats!
Jill Soloway, writer-director of Afternoon Delight, is best known for their television credits, Six Feet Under and Transparent, and at the time of making the 2013 film they were still married to music producer Bruce Gilbert, were living in Silver Lake with a young son, and were active in the Los Angeles Jewish community giving Afternoon Delight more than a hint of the autobiographical. The film’s central character (played by Kathryn Hahn) lives in Silver Lake with a husband and young son who goes to a Jewish pre-school.
Comedian Hahn is Rachel, a stay-at-home mom, who once wanted to be a war correspondent but now stares at the laptop screen instead of actually typing. Her husband (Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother) develops pointless smartphone apps and has recently sold out to bigger interests, hence the three-story, architect-designed, house in Silver Lake.
Their sex life has fallen off a cliff and – to try and liven things up – they go to an LA strip club with another couple (played by Jessica St. Clair and Keegan-Michael Key) who are much more confident at this sort of thing. Rachel is shouted a lapdance from nubile young McKenna (Juno Temple) and, after a bit of embarrassment, wakes up with a mild case of obsession. She manufactures a friendship with the young stripper, eventually inviting her to come and live with them (as the family is apparently between nannies).
What starts out as a very amusing comedy-of-manners about a very specific West Coast milieu takes a dark turn and we start to see how fragile some of these people are – although in Temple’s hard-bitten young prostitute her eventual un-knowability says more about the middle class, privileged and naïve characters she is surrounded by than it does about her. “What’s a sex worker?” says St. Clair over an afternoon glass of wine by the pool while Temple swims backwards and forwards before them, demonstrating a physical freedom that they know little about.
Winner of an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Script and the Best Directing Prize at Sundance, Afternoon Delight is not the raunchy comedy you might think from the title and the DVD box. There’s more going on than that, even though the drama – when it arrives – is uncomfortably overwrought. And I’m claiming it for #52filmsbywomen until someone tells me otherwise.
Afternoon Delight is on DVD, Blu-ray and digital now. #52filmsbywomen is a project encouraging film lovers to seek out and enjoy films made by women.