Let’s talk about sex (and potentiality)

Jill Soloway’s often delightful, and more than occasionally discomfiting, sex dramedy Afternoon Delight was the choice for film club last week. It raises a number of thought-provoking questions regarding sexuality, religion, and the existential crisis of unrealized potential. In doing so, the film does tend to gloss over or leave unresolved lingering questions regarding gender relations and roles and the potential minefield of female friendship. The movie is worth a watch if, for no other reason, a standout performance by Kathryn Hahn as Rachel, our protagonist.

First things first. This is not a movie review. You ostensibly know where to go to find those. I’m not going to recap the movie ad nauseum. If you want context, go see the film and support indie cinema or go and read a synopsis or something. This also means that I’m not going to refrain from giving away plot points. There will be no spoiler warnings.

Kathryn Hahn is a revelation. Largely unfamiliar with her prior work, I could not have been more impressed by her smart, subtle, sexy turn as Rachel. Jill Soloway’s deft directorial touch is similarly apparent, and in her debut she demonstrates a command of the nuances of relationships. She plays the role of a bored housewife of above-average intelligence with a reticent ferocity, longing to break out of her rut and explore her yet unfilled potential without quite knowing how to do so.

That’s not to say that this is a film without its flaws. The climax, denouement, and conclusion seem rushed, perhaps a little implausible, but the strong performances by Hahn and Josh Radnor save the ending from its more saccharine notes. They bring a raw, at turns brittle, intricacy to the complicated love between Rachel and Jeff.

The portrayal of the bonds between women is also a bit troubling, but I am in no way qualified to comment on the lives or friendships of upper-middle class Jewish women in California. This collection of women seems at best to be “frenemies”, thrown together in most cases by circumstance rather than real affection – they’re all stay-at-home mothers who belong to the same Jewish Community Center.

I’m not certain if this movie is going to gain much traction, if for nothing else a lack of commonality with many of the characters. I admittedly don’t know much about stay-at-home Jewish mothers, and I’m fairly certain the liberal politics and relaxed sexual mores of the movie likely won’t play in the flyover states. All that said, this is still a powerful little movie that will ring true with those people who tilt against the windmills of potential.

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