Rachel knows she shouldn’t be unhappy. In fact, Afternoon Delight, the dark comedy of modern sex manners and malaise that won Jill Soloway the Best Director prize at Sundance, (more or less) starts with this line:
How can I complain? Women in Darfur walk 14 miles to get water and are raped on the way (and on the way back).
The life she does end up complaining about is anything but: one of those comfortable, semi-cool Silver Lake lives that most people strive for. There is a handsome, boyish husband, an adorable, smart son, a circle of equally affluent, casually well kept Silver Lake cohorts and not very much to stress out about. Which, naturally, leads to stressing out because well, having no stress is not a natural state for human beings, and causes of stress can always be found. Especially in a state of perpetual semi-boredom. There needs to be SOMETHING to talk to your psychiatrist about, because if you didn’t have anything to talk to your psychiatrist about, then there would be no reason to go see a psychiatrist, and then the ONLY people you’d see, since your affluent life also doesn’t require you to have a job, would be your family and other Moms and other kids. And that just won’t do.
The cause of stress here is sex. Or lack of it. Or lack of it at times that are not bedtime (hence the title, obviously). Goddammit, things need to be shaken up. So when Rachel’s best Mom friend suggest the two couples go on a double date to a strip club, Rachel jumps at the chance. Jeff, her husband, is less than enthusiastic (Strip clubs make me the opposite of horny, they make me sad). There a stripper (and full-service sex worker) McKenna is acquired for Rachel’s first lap dance, and then, in a series of events that happen only in movies like this about people like this with problems like this, McKenna is brought to stay at the house, AS A NANNY. Where things go from here, they go.
If I sound vaguely annoyed by the movie, now would be a good time to say that I am NOT. I think the movie itself is actually a good one. It is just that this kind of emotional malaise LA movie (it is becoming almost a genre, btw, see also: Nobody Walks, Laurel Canyon, The Kids are Alright) where an outsider usurps the delicate sexual and emotional balance of a protected house ecosystem are not necessarily meant to feature likable people, and I, as a movie goer am finally catching up on it.
The good news is that the irector Jill Soloway handles the situations with an aplomb for the uneasy, and these people are played by some of the most likable people around and it makes the the bitter taste go down a touch smoother. Kathryn Hahn, who is in general a delight, no matter what time of day we’re talking about is Rachel, gently rumpled and with emotions bubbling surprisingly close to the witticism protected surface. Josh Radnor is her Jeff, a nice guy and a successful guy and a relatable guy. Even their friends are brought to us by people we allow and love having in our homes every week (Michelle Watkins, Jessica St. Clair, Jane Lynch, Keegan Michael Key) further building this comfortable familiarity with the audience that they themselves feel too.
The eco-system usurption is provided by Juno Temple, who at 24 has built a remarkable filmography of vulnerable trouble-makers (see also: Dirty Girl, Cracks and Jack And Diane) and she is just painfully-young-looking enough and frizzy haired enough that her McKenna comes of as a real, relatable person, as opposed to an underage sex worker living with a married couple in their late 30s, even as all semi-hell starts breaking loose.
In the end, the reason why this movie exists is the reason why I am slightly uncomfortable with it: people are never happy with what they have. Even if what they have is what most people are universally expected to want. And this place of permanent discontent is a dark one. Even when it is pretty funny and populated by genuinely talented, smart humans. To paraphrase one miss Peggy Lee, this can’t possibly be all there is.