Afternoon Delight so ardently pokes fun at the hoity-toity upper-middle class that, for a while, one believes the film may actually harbor some disdain for it. That impression fades quickly, though, as one realizes that the markers of hipster-meets-yuppie life that writer-director Jill Solloway picks on, from people’s obsession with quinoa to their use of words like “cacophonous” when “loud” would just as easily suffice, are a form of insider baseball—precisely the traits that the film’s characters might choose to gently mock themselves. There’s nothing wrong with self-deprecation, from characters or from artists, but Afternoon Delight is troubling in its irresponsible portrayal of anyone outside the world it knows best, and for the dishonest manner in which it attempts to mask self-pity as enlightened self-criticism.
The film focuses on Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Jeff (Josh Radnor), a couple going through a sexual dry spell that they attempt to cure with a trip to the local strip club. The remedial excursion goes awry, however, when Rachel instead becomes saddened by the plight of the young stripper, McKenna (Juno Temple), who gives her a lap dance. McKenna, who moves in with Rachel, Jeff, and their son prior to the family learning that she’s also a prostitute, is initially set up as a sexually liberated, stress-free foil to Rachel’s uptight, boring existence. The film also attempts, at first, to cast Rachel in a darker light, hinting that her interest in McKenna might only amount to a self-righteous charity project. And while some early scenes, like one where McKenna explains her self-assignation as sex worker, play the look-at-these-naïve-rich-people card a bit brazenly, they also make it seem like the movie might seek to judge the faults of all its characters equally.
Instead, the film’s second half turns exclusively into a story of how Rachel and Jeff get their groove back. This narrative shift occurs when McKenna convinces Rachel to accompany her on a date with a client, wherein Rachel is presumably shocked to realize the debasing nature of McKenna’s work, though nothing the film shows is provocative enough to dispel the notion that what truly disturbs Rachel is the realization that prostitution actually involves having sex.
In any case (spoilers herein), Rachel and McKenna’s failed partnership leads to a fallout followed by much drunken humiliation that forces Rachel to face the dissatisfaction she feels about her life and makes McKenna confront, well, nothing really, because McKenna is cast back to the strip club after having successfully served as the catalyst for Rachel and Jeff’s reinvigorated sex life. Rachel’s therapist (Jane Lynch) receives more sympathy—and screen time—over a breakup at the end of the film than McKenna does after she’s kicked out of Rachel’s home, following which we only see her in a brief shot through the side-view mirror of Rachel’s car. Not lacking, however, are several shots of Rachel and Ted having great sex again at the end of the film. Because ultimately that’s what matters here: Rachel experiencing the delight of an orgasm again.