In Sundance’s ‘Afternoon Delight,’ Soul-Baring in Suburbia (Updated)

What to do with a husband, beautiful house, adorable preschooler and too much time on your hands?  Think: strip club

What to do with a husband, beautiful house, adorable preschooler and too much time on your hands?  Think: strip club.

Jill Soloway’s well-done debut feature, “Afternoon Delight” is among the best of a crop of movies dealing with a grown-up identity crisis at Sundance this year, notable for treating the woman at the center of its story with sophistication and honesty.

Update: Soloway won the festival's directing award in the dramatic competition on Saturday night.

The woman would be Kathryn Hahn (“Parks and Recreation”) as Rachel, a housewife who brings a young stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple) into her Silver Lake home with a vague notion of saving the latter from a life of prostitution. But Rachel’s generosity is a cover for her own boredom, her fascination with Temple’s unencumbered morality and titillation by her life in the sex trade.

Also read: The Surge of Women at Sundance – And What it Means For Filmmaking

afternoon delight castThe movie works better than many here because Soloway (at far left), a veteran of HBO's "Six Feet Under" who also wrote the script, doesn’t judge her characters. Temple plays McKenna as someone with a complex interior life and a strong sense of the power of her sexuality. 

The film has plenty of explicit sex and a fair amount of nudity (by the way: more than a few of the movies here make no big deal about showing men’s frontal nudity along with the women’s), an ongoing theme at this year’s festival.

But the real strength of the movie is that it so clearly puts Rachel and her dilemmas at the heart of the story – her dead sex life with her husband (Josh Radnor), her banal weekly shrink sessions (with Jane Lynch as the therapist), the routine of her volunteer duties at the Jewish Community Center and preschool. In other words: regular old life.

In the emotional q&a after an early morning screening on Tuesday, Soloway fielded an avalanche of praise from the cast and crew for giving them the emotional space to create the characters.

“Her writing is so extraordinary,” said Hahn, who is better known for comedy. “There was this unreal safety net that Jill created. I will never forget the month of August 2012. It was holy and really blessed.”

“It felt very safe to do this vulnerable work,” said Radnor, who read for the part as a favor to Soloway, a friend, and ended up doing the role in between his work for his tv show “How I Met Your Mother.”  

Also read: Sexist Hollywood?: Women Still Struggle to Find Film Jobs, Study Finds

Temple recalled a scene in which Soloway pulled back from her lighting a cigarette with Rachel and said it changed the tone of the relationships on screen. “We were willing to give everything we’ve got and bare your soul. We all bare our soul in it.”

“Everyone goes so deep in this film,” said Lynch. “Funny people do this sort of film — raw, emotional work — best,” recounting how in a crucial scene where she was supposed to cry, Soloway burst into tears first. “I haven’t done this sort of work since college,” she added.

After someone noted there was a lot of crying on the shoot, Soloway acknowledged: “It was a very moist experience.”

The movie is up for sale.