Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn in Jill Soloway's "Afternoon Delight,"… (Courtesy of the Sundance…)
Kathryn Hahn is a familiar face from her supporting roles in such films as “How Do You Know,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Anchorman” and TV shows “Parks and Recreation,” “Girls” and “Hung.” Now, the 38-year-old actress is getting her first leading role in a feature film with “Afternoon Delight,” a dramatic comedy premiering Monday at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Delight” is somewhat akin to a contemporary creative class retelling of “Diary of a Mad Housewife.” In the film, Hahn plays Rachel, a married mother of one who is suffering from a certain upscale ennui. As the movie opens, she is sitting in the back of her car as it goes through a carwash, very much not in the driver’s seat of her own life.
After she and her husband (Josh Radnor), a creator of online apps consumed by his work, go to a strip club to spice things up, Rachel becomes strangely obsessed with a stripper, McKenna (Juno Temple), finagling to start a friendship and giving her a job as a live-in nanny. Whether she is trying to save McKenna or herself, Rachel’s trip to the dark side has unexpected consequences for everyone.
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Friday morning, after dropping her two kids at school and just before hopping on a plane to Park City, Hahn stopped by a Sunset Boulevard coffee shop in the epicenter of Los Angeles’ boho chic Silver Lake neighborhood, where she lives and where the film is set. (Forbes recently named Silver Lake the No. 1 hipster neighborhood in the country.)
“My life certainly is not her life,” said Hahn of any similarities to the character of Rachel, while nevertheless noting that the car she drives in the movie is in fact her own minivan. “But I am at this very coffee shop after morning drop-off and I see the moms come in and go to the boutiques in the neighborhood and I see a lot of the moms just aimlessly browsing. Just browsing, like as a job.”
The film marks the directorial debut of Jill Soloway, a veteran producer and writer for such television shows as “Six Feet Under,” “United States of Tara” and “How to Make It in America.” (Soloway also wrote the script.)
Hahn said she lobbied hard for the part, auditioning for Soloway via Skype while in New York City shooting a role in Ben Stiller’s upcoming adaptation of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
"Afternoon Delight" was shot over 3 1/2 weeks this past August -- “like a minute ago,” said Hahn -- and the actress is excited by how it transforms its hooky premise of a stripper turned nanny in a bourgeois world into something more deeply emotional and resonant.
“I think what it captures is a sense of purposelessness of this person and of this age,” said Hahn. “Approaching 40, feeling like the parenting of a young child is over, the child is launched, and what is your day now, what does your life consist of?"
“On the surface this woman has everything. She knows her magazines, she goes on all the blogs, and when that’s all done, there is nothing else to be designed, the kids are in good schools, she knows where to get her coffee, she has her daily uniform, then where does that leave you? She has no center, she’s in her late 30s and she has no idea who she is.”
Despite its serious underpinnings, the film is also funny as a social satire, with a cast rounded out by comedic performers Jane Lynch, Annie Mumolo, Michaela Watkins and Keegan Michael Key. Of Soloway’s script, Hahn said, “I think her writing is incredible and specific and funny in a not very broad way. It’s not sitcom jokes and it’s hard to find the comedy in there; it was a tough nut to crack, tone-wise.
“It’s a mysterious movie to me, which I love. A lot of unexplained decisions,” Hahn said. “I love that just as an experience, it kind of washes over you, the mood of it. It sat with me for a while.”
At one point Radnor’s character asks Hahn’s Rachel why she is doing what she’s doing. It’s a valid question.
“The dial shifts just a little bit for her by the end of the movie,” Hahn said. “I don’t think they are on the road to something perfect, but the lens kind of gets clear for her -- of everything she has.”