Last night was one of those flip around on In Demand, looking aimlessly for something to watch evenings. I still haven’t seen Gravity and my husband hasn’t seen Dallas Buyers Club, but instead of watching one of the big films of last year, we decided to try something called Afternoon Delight, the story of a young mother with a lackluster marriage who brings a stripper home to be her live-in nanny.
Rachel, a married mother of a young son living with her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor, aka Ted Mosby) in a beautiful house in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Rachel is played by the fabulous actress Katherine Hahn, whom I first saw on the first season of Girls as the woman who hires Jessa to be her babysitter.) Rachel tells her therapist (Jane Lynch) that she and her husband haven’t had sex in six months. “But couples go through dry spells, right?” she says. “Not healthy couples,” her therapist replies.
Rachel has a group of annoying mom friends. The volunteer together at the JCC. The only nice woman of the group, Stephanie, suggests that Rachel and Jeff go to a strip club to spice things up. Rachel and Jeff and Stephanie and her husband Bo double date at the strip club. Everyone’s having a great time, and Jeff buys Rachel a lap dance. The stripper (JunoTemple) takes Rachel into a curtained off room, and does her thing. Rachel is clearly both freaked out and titillated. Later that night, instead of having sex with Jeff, she vomits in the bathroom from drinking too much.
A few days later, Rachel drives back to the strip club in the middle of the afternoon. She spots the stripper across the street near a coffee truck, and finds a way to end up standing next to her, introducing herself as “You gave me a lap dance last week, remember?” After a few seconds, the stripper does remember. Her name is McKenna. They talk, a conversation that is the first of many afternoon coffee breaks talking together. McKenna has no place to live, and Rachel impulsively invites her to live in the vacant bedroom of their former nanny.
Jeff is not happy to have “the stripper” living in their house. But Rachel assures him it’s fine, she needs their help, and after all, she does all this volunteering for the “homeless” and here’s someone who’s homeless! Hard to beat that logic.
McKenna soon admits to Rachel that she’s not just a stripper, she’s a full service “sex worker.” Rachel ignores this warning bell, and continues to act motherly towards her and to integrate McKenna into her life. She brings her to her son’s school and introduces her as her new nanny. Everyone is happy. Rachel and McKenna have frank conversations. Rachel asks her if she ever feels guilty for sleeping with married men, and McKenna tells her no, why should she? “Don’t you have any empathy?” And McKenna says yes – for the men whose wives are too busy to have sex with them. Rachel immediately calls her husband home for an afternoon quickie.
But the honeymoon between Rachel and McKenna comes to an end when two events make them realize the unbridgeable divide between them. First, McKenna brings Rachel along to observe a session with one of her clients. It’s not clear whether Rachel goes out of curiosity, or as an attempt to further wake herself up, or because she wants to stay close to McKenna. Either way, the experience changes her attitude towards McKenna. When her friend tries to hire McKenna to babysit her daughters for a night, Rachel puts a kebosh on it. When McKenna realizes what’s happened, she feels betrayed. And the results are explosive.
This movie is much better than I expected. I thought it was going to be a superficial, Judd Apatow treatment of marital woes. Instead, it was well-written, multi-faceted look at emotional and sexual alienation and the modern American female experience.
Afternoon Delight is the second film I’ve seen lately that shows a woman who is sexually alienated from her spouse, and does something destructive out of frustration and alienation. The other film is called Concussion, about a upper middle class suburban lesbian couple with young children and no sex life. One of the women secretly becomes a call girl. Both films show people who have absolutely everything, except a connection to one another. Although their transgressions are dramatic, they are ultimately sympathetic. While they do things we would never dream of, they do it dreaming of the love that we all want.