Afternoon Delight starts out much like its lead character, trying to shake up its staid, slightly dull world with some unusual and risky dips into the dark side. And for a good two-thirds of the movie it is rather fascinating due to this uninhibited exploration of alternative realities and sexual mores. Then sadly, the heroine (and the movie) suddenly seem to snap into an odd state of closed-minded morality and what started out as imperfect, human, questing and slightly dangerous quickly becomes shrill and judgmental. This change in direction might even be the most logical thing simply from a plot structure point of view, but it comes off as too safe and predictable. An intriguing movie idea crumbles under the weight of the overwrought sermonizing of its climax.
It is a real shame, because it ends up sort of wasting a rare lead role for wonderfully quirky character actress Kathryn Hahn. Hahn has mostly been relegated to supporting comic roles (the most recent being in the current We’re the Millers) since her breakout role on the TV series Crossing Jordan about a decade ago. Hahn is an interesting sort for Hollywood, smart, sweet and funny, a little sexy if not exactly gorgeous – basically the type of actress who usually gets dumped into quirky best friend roles (and Hahn has done more than her share of those). Therefore, for Hahn to get the lead role – and on top of that one in a rather dangerously explicit movie – sounded like a reason to cheer.
Hahn does her best with the role, and she has many very interesting and uncomfortable scenes, before her character gets painted into a corner by the film’s ending.
Despite its title, which sort of screams “sex comedy,” Afternoon Delight has a much more serious, dark premise at its heart. It is a look at boredom, depression and aimlessness in an upper-middle-class marriage.
Rachel (Hahn) seems to have a perfect life: a nice, well-off husband Jeff (Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother), an adorable five-year old son (Sawyer Ever), lots of friends, a beautiful home in the trendy LA Silverlake neighborhood, lots of activities and no real need to work. And yet, living the suburban ideal is unsatisfying for Rachel, who looks back longingly at years of college partying, sexual promiscuity and the dream of a career as a journalist. While she and Jeff are not arguing and do love each other, there are cracks forming in their facade. He is way too busy as his business has taken off, she is not busy enough, and they almost never have sex anymore.