This "Afternoon Delight" has more serious fish to fry, even if it's full of strong comic actors.
The movie is arranged around comedian-actress Kathryn Hahn, who -- whether parachuting for the length of a story arc into ongoing series such as "Parks & Recreation" or cutting a bizarre path through "Step Brothers" -- has been threatening to bring her particular brand of funny-weird to center stage for the best part of a decade.
Hahn is allowed to make her mark, and then some, in "Afternoon Delight." She plays Rachel, a stay-at-home mom whose disenchanted life is shaken by her encounter with an exotic dancer, McKenna (Juno Temple), during an evening when she and husband Jeff (Josh Radnor, from "How I Met Your Mother") double-date with friends at a strip club. (Couples in movies have been known to do this.)
McKenna is soon staying at Rachel and Jeff's place, an awkward situation complicated by McKenna's sideline as a prostitute.
Writer-director Jill Soloway (who won the directing prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year) would have us believe that Rachel's midlife crisis might accommodate all this and more, and maybe in a better movie it could.
Soloway does her best to remind us we're not watching a pure comedy, as she regularly includes scenes of idle boredom and cringe-worthy behavior.
If the film works at all, though, it's because of the comedy. Any time Hahn is let off the leash -- for instance, at a hen party where she tipsily insists on toasting her friends while staring soulfully into the eyes of each -- she's all skyrockets in flight.
There's also Jane Lynch, stealing a few typically crisp moments as Rachel's over-sharing therapist, and the splendid Michaela Watkins and Jessica St. Clair, as friends whose personalities roughly fit the molds of Fran Drescher and Chelsea Handler -- though each actress is distinctive enough to break those molds.
As funny as its isolated moments can be, "Afternoon Delight" opens up too many cans of rubber snakes. Soloway seems to be aiming at the kind of observational groove that Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko get in their films, but with some Judd Apatow stirred in.
The mix doesn't quite become Jell-O, and it's further proof that the plot device of the soulful striptease artiste deserves a break from contemporary movies.
"Afternoon Delight" (2 stars)
The midlife crisis of a stay-at-home mom (Kathryn Hahn) takes the form of inviting a stripper to stay at her home -- a situation worked for both comedy and drama in this uneven movie. The comedy works best, as Hahn is a gifted comic actor and the cast is full of funny people, but it's not quite enough to make the mix work.
Rated: R, for nudity, language.
Showing: Pacific Place, Sundance.
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