It’s taken way too long for somebody to build an entire movie around Kathryn Hahn, who’s spent the past decade on the periphery of male-centric ensemble comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers. Disarmingly frank and devilishly playful, Hahn has the potential to be her generation’s equivalent of a Jean Arthur or Rosalind Russell, with an extra dash of unconventional sexiness. All she needs is the right vehicle. For a little while, Afternoon Delight, the feature debut of TV showrunner Jill Soloway (The United States Of Tara), looks as if it might fit the bill, providing Hahn with ample opportunities to strut her stuff in a story that places her opposite a professional stuff-strutter. Alas, the film, which had at worst seemed unfocused (not a cardinal sin for a comedy), takes a bizarrely reactionary turn in the homestretch, undermining all of the goodwill Hahn had accumulated up to that point and turning her character into detestable yuppie scum.
Granted, there weren’t many promising paths for Soloway’s high-concept premise to take. First seen complaining to her shrink (Jane Lynch) about her nonexistent sex life, Hahn plays a frustrated homemaker who’s deriving no satisfaction from her marriage (to app developer Josh Radnor), her preschool-age son, or her cadre of civic-minded friends (including Michaela Watkins and Jessica St. Clair). Inspired by a chance remark, Hahn attempts to spice things up by going to a strip club with Radnor and another couple, where she receives a lap dance from baby-faced Juno Temple. Curiosity and some vague longing then impel Hahn to seek Temple out and invite her to stay in her guest bedroom—ostensibly to help this young woman make a better life for herself, though it’s not at all clear that Temple needs anyone’s help.
Trouble is, neither is it clear that Temple’s stripper/hooker/“full-service sex worker” has any function in the movie other than helping a couple of rich assholes reconnect and experience an eyes-open orgasm. Hahn has plenty of fun early on playing awkward and flustered, but about halfway through the movie she decides to accompany Temple on a visit to one of her regular clients (John Kapelos, The Breakfast Club’s janitor), an exhibitionist. Nothing especially untoward happens, yet the experience so skeeves Hahn that she instantly becomes a judgmental moralist, refusing to let Temple babysit her friends’ kids and generally treating her as if she’s some lesser form of life that, at best, needs to be set free to do its own thing, like a dangerous wild animal. This might be interesting were Afternoon Delight a hard-hitting drama with a jaundiced view of its protagonist, but every indication is that the film wholly endorses her point of view. Not even Hahn can be charming and funny under those circumstances.