Review: ‘Afternoon Delight’ fumbles answers to compelling questions

The darkish comedy “Afternoon Delight” gives the talented Kathryn Hahn her first movie lead, and for a while it looks like an opportunity to dig in deep. Hahn’s vanity-free performance as a bored Los Angeles housewife who befriends a stripper goes a considerable way to humanize a film of occasional insight and underdeveloped provocations. Ultimately, though, her character is as thinly conceived and hard to root for as everyone else in filmmaker Jill Soloway’s erratic blend of not-quite satire and halfhearted soul searching.

The first-time director, an experienced writer-producer whose TV credits include “Six Feet Under,” persuasively zeros in on a culture of privilege in Silver Lake, where stay-at-home moms require nannies. Thirtysomething Rachel struggles with a wobbly sense of identity, well expressed in the opening carwash sequence: While her minivan is on the conveyor belt, she tries out the passenger seat and back seat as though testing possible new selves.

The self she chooses, for a while, is stalker/rescuer of a stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple, in confident sex-kitten mode). Rachel installs McKenna in the unused room of the sleek aerie she shares with her app-developer husband (Josh Radnor). The room’s a stand-in for unrealized chances (second child, freelance work), while McKenna, a self-described “full-service sex worker,” turns out to be expendable — as child care provider and as story catalyst.

Soloway tosses around compelling questions about women’s lives, too often falling back on shrill comedy. Jane Lynch is spot-on as a quintessentially passive-aggressive psychotherapist, but her sharp sequences lapse into farce, just as complications on Rachel’s home front resolve unconvincingly. Aiming to discomfort, the film ends up retreating.



“Afternoon Delight”

MPAA rating: R for strong, sometimes graphic, sexual content, language and some drug use.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Playing: At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.