With her debut feature, Afternoon Delight, and Amazon original series, Jill Soloway is following in the footsteps of Girls’ creator.
Despite taking the Best Director prize at Sundance 2013, Jill Soloway’s provocative first feature-length film, Afternoon Delight, recently released on UK iTunes, didn’t receive the cinematic release it deserved. With the tagline ‘The cure for the common marriage’, the comedic drama explores the importance of sex in a relationship, particularly a marriage in a style highly reminiscent of Girls’ Lena Dunham.
Afternoon Delight stars the talented Kathryn Hahn as Rachel, a bored stay-at-home mum, Josh Radnor as her husband Jeff, Juno Temple as stripper McKenna and Jane Lynch as therapist Lenore. Rachel is just one of the deeply flawed, and relatable, characters in Afternoon Delight, frustrated with the life she’s leading as a housewife and pre-school mother in Silver Lake (where Soloway and Hahn are both mothers themselves). Rachel hasn’t had sex with her husband for six months, so to try and spice things up, she takes Jeff to a strip club (a normal response) where he treats her to a lap dance from cute yet edgy stripper McKenna. The youthful and caring McKenna then becomes involved in the couple’s boring life in ways they never imagined.
Soloway explores the importance of sex in a relationship, particularly a marriage in a style reminiscent of Dunham
48-year-old, Chicago-born Soloway, whose writing and producing credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Dirty Sexy Money, United States of Tara, and How to Make It in America, along with producing Six Feet Under (for which she has three Emmy nominations), got the idea for the film from a conversation with a friend about visiting strip clubs. She told The Guardian, “I’ve met a lot of sex workers over the years… Every single one of them is as different as we are as people. There are some that need to be rescued and there are some that are perfectly happy.”
The complex relationship between Rachel and McKenna explores the idea that not all sex workers want to be ‘saved’ – “There’s a lot of me in Rachel’s journey,” Soloway has said. “I’ve always loved reading the memoirs of strippers and sex workers. I feel like they’re the war reporters for women. They go to the front lines of a very particular kind of extreme conflict and live there, then write about it so we can experience it with them.” Afternoon Delight also calls into question the idea of labels, or as Soloway told Salon, “this idea that “mom” is on one side and “hooker” is on the other side… The movie is about a woman who…allows herself to be lost in the canyon of this split.”
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Uncomfortably sexual and dark at times (and featuring full-frontal nudity from Temple, though if you’re a Dunham fan, you’re used to that), the film offers some incredibly comedic scenes, particularly the exchanges between Rachel and her lesbian therapist Lenore, and the all-too-familiar scene of a ‘women and wine’ night between the mothers at preschool. Highlight: Hahn drunkenly blurting, “Has anybody here wondered what their aborted children would be like?” Soloway describes her style as ‘funcomfortable’, and is herself incredibly witty like Dunham. She even bears a striking physical resemblance to the Girls writer/actress/director/producer (when I saw her face pop up during a Skype Q&A after a screening in Mayfair, I said, “Holy shit, is that Lena Dunham?”).
Soloway is now directing the Amazon original series, Transparent, which was picked up for a full-season 10-episode run
“I absolutely feel like Lena Dunham shifted things”, Soloway said, “so that when I was talking about what I wanted to do [with this film]…I could just say, “Like Girls, but grown-up…” with better sex, about life and family, relationship, intimacy.” And that’s the main difference between the two directors – Soloway’s age shines through, her work much more mature. She toes the line of decency as Dunham is known for doing, but instead of wanting to give her characters a swift slap across the face (as I often want to do to Hannah from Girls – who’s with me?), we relate to them. We laugh with them. We cry with them.
Further, Soloway told the Chicago Tribune, “It was really like a little bit of Lena Dunham jealousy and going, ‘How did Girls happen? Oh, Tiny Furniture,'” referring to Dunham’s 2010 debut feature film that led to her HBO series. “If I’m going to get my own show on the air, it’s going to be because a network is going to be able to understand my vision; they’re going to be able to see what I see, and that was when I went towards making Afternoon Delight.”
And understand they did, as Soloway is now directing the Amazon original series, Transparent, which was picked up for a full-season 10-episode run after a successful pilot. The show stars Gaby Hoffmann, Jeffrey Tambor and Amy Landecker, and centres around a family’s struggle with sexual identity when their father comes out as transgender.
“I always wanted to do a show about a family, and I had been really feeling like there wasn’t really a great show that privileged the queer voice as the protagonist,” she said. “I feel like women and queer people are always other in most things that you see on television, whether there’s a white male protagonist or whether the protagonist is a white male-approved female. I’d always been driven by the notion of just sort of removing that privilege from protagonism, making the other the subject instead of the object.”
Soloway brings in the best elements from Dunham’s work without leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths
Her clear visions and feminist goals also set her apart from Dunham, who, although outside her work she may be a gay rights activist, has plot lines and sexual antics that, while incredibly amusing, never leave us any the wiser about social issues. “It’s really about family boundaries and anxiety around boundaries, how to love one another without becoming one another,” she says. Even her colleagues recognise Soloway’s bright future. “What she does is so amazing,” Landecker told The Chicago Tribune. “It’s political, it’s smart, it’s social, it’s thought-provoking, but she does it in such a sexy way that anybody would want to sit through it.”
Whether or not you’re a fan, Soloway brings in the best elements from Dunham’s work without leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths, creating characters we simply love rather than characters we love to hate. So you should probably sit through Afternoon Delight, too, and see why this director is worth watching out for.
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Featured image: Film Arcade
Inset images: Film Arcade; Amazon