It is rare that an actress with a history of supporting roles and an actor only famous for a sitcom give anything more than mediocre performances in lead roles of a big screen production.
However, Kathryn Hahn and Josh Radnor do just this with great chemistry in the appropriately titled "Afternoon Delight" directed by Jill Soloway.
Hahn and Radnor are joined by Juno Temple, who plays a stripper/prostitute and gives an impressive performance despite her little-known name.
Aside from a few uncomfortable scenes, "Afternoon Delight" proves to be an unconventionally heart-warming film.
At first glance, the movie seems to be nothing more than the predictable "let's help the stripper stop stripping and magically fix our marriage" story, but in reality, this is a realistic representation of a middle-aged woman lost inside her own life.
The portrayal of Rachel's (Hahn) loneliness is subtle, yet powerful from the beginning. Directed by Jill Soloway, producer of sections of hit television show "Grey's Anatomy," her use of a car wash shows the viewer Rachel's perspective as the oversized brushes wash her car. She flips through her contacts, but does not call anyone. She moves around in the car, in an apparent attempt to escape the world from the driver's seat.
Radnor plays Jeff, Rachel's workaholic husband who is oblivious to the marriage crumbling around him. Temple's character, McKenna, stays on the streets and ultimately helps to mend the couple's broken relationship.
The use of a stripper/prostitute as something other than a charity case is genius. It lets the viewer understand just how desperate Rachel is to find meaning. Allowing the viewer to step inside this usually-hidden world to express loneliness in a marriage creates much more depth for the characters.
In one scene, Rachel sits in on one of McKenna's "appointments" in the hopes of actually feeling something more than the fake smile she wears in her daily life. The expression on Rachel's face during this scene is one of disgust, excitement and desperation. This scene is paralleled with Jeff standing up on a surfboard, displaying his ability to enjoy everyday accomplishments while his wife struggles to find excitement in anything.
The desperation of Rachel's character is made even more evident in what is arguably the most powerful performance of Hahn's career. The shaky camera movement puts the viewer inside the room of wine-drinking women. After one too many drinks, Rachel lets go and expresses her worries about her life. Her body breaks down, tears flow effortlessly from her eyes and it seems as if her world is crashing down around her as she screams, expressing her fear of missing her son's childhood.
Radnor, known for his role on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," shows great potential for the big screen. Playing one half of a non-intimate couple with a prostitute in the next room seems to be a difficult task. However, his eyes wander realistically, but not long enough for viewers to blame him. His body language suggests boredom, but his eyes show that desire for his wife is still exists.
Hahn and Radnor's chemistry shines as their characters are able to reconnect after some unexpected plot twists, which should cue the spoiler alert. Soloway does not use props to create a grand gesture, but leaves the portrayal of love to the character's movement and expression. Through Jeff's quirky grin and Rachel's teary eyes, the viewer sees the spark that was once missing in the couple.
The potentially-corny ending was just raw enough to keep the realistic feel through the end. Rachel is seen turning away from the symbolically lonely carwash to get some "Afternoon Delight," completing the quest for happiness perfectly portrayed by Hahn and Radnor, and wonderfully directed by Soloway.