(On Cable TV, November 2015) I’m not sure how or why Kathryn Hahn ended up associated with raunchy comedy in my mind (although watching her roles as borderline-deviant in Bad Words and This is Where I Leave You probably explains it), but it may have led to wrong assumptions in watching Afternoon Delight. Billed as a low-key comedy in which a frustrated suburban mom changes her life after befriending a stripper, Afternoon Delight ends up being a somewhat miserable drama in which a well-off mother uses then discards a sex worker to rekindle her marriage. This sounds worse than it is, but the truth is that there’s a surprisingly reprehensible way to read Afternoon Delight that may not be what writer/director Jill Soloway intended. In-between the naturalistic staging, unspectacular camera work, tonal issues and decidedly un-triumphant ending in which a character gets sidelined after serving her purpose, Afternoon Delight is the kind of independent low-budget drama that seduces with an interesting premise and unsettles with an intensely uncomfortable third act. (That princess-trinket scene… heart-breaking.) Hahn does quite a bit better as a complex lead character than in her more usual scene-stealing comic roles, while Juno Temple is also quite good as the young woman who upsets the protagonist’s world – both of them, though, aren’t well-served by the end stretch of the film, which seems happy throwing away an entire character just to make its lead couple happy. Maybe that’s the point; maybe that’s an accident –all I know is that by the end of Afternoon Delight, I didn’t want anything to do with anyone in the film.
(On Cable TV, November 2015) Tone control is a tricky thing, and few films show this as well as Horns. Adapting Joe Hill’s novel is not an easy proposition, considering how the book veers between comedy and horror and heartfelt redemption story. Novelists can usually control tone better than directors: prose works differently, and what shows up on-screen often suffers from excessive literalism. So it is that while Horns’ screenplay considerably simplifies and strengthens the book’s story (to the point where reading a synopsis of the book can feel like a comedy of overstuffed plotlines), this big-screen version can’t quite manage its transition from comedy to horror. The film is best in its first half, as our protagonist discovers that he’s been cursed with invisible horns, the power of persuasion and a gift for allowing strangers to tell them their deepest secrets. This leads to a number of very funny sequences, but those laughs get fewer and fewer as his newfound powers lead him to understand what happened on the night of his girlfriend’s murder –a murder for which he’s the prime suspect. Chaos engulfs his small town, friends turn to enemies, parents can’t be trusted and the secrets he discover may not be the ones he wants to hear about. Daniel Radcliffe is quite good in the lead role, with Juno Temple being as angelic as she can be as the (idealized?) dead girlfriend. Despite Horns’ problems, this is Alexandre Aja’s least repulsive film yet and one that suggests that he may have a future beyond genre-horror shlock.