With her first feature film Afternoon Delight, Jill Soloway has created a comedy that’s as family-centric and as “oh no she didn’t!” cringe-inducing as a Judd Apatow movie.
But the Chicago-born Soloway’s no Apatow fembot. For one, she’s actually interested in women. And she isn’t just gross for the sake of being gross. Her gross-outs have a higher purpose.
Take the scene in Afternoon Delight where a group of long-standing friends gather for their regular “Women and Wine” night. As their increasingly drunken and rambling talk turns to sex and sexual turn ons, a couple of them invoke the rape scene in The Accused.
Their admission prompts shrieks of horror and recognition from the others. And as they chime in, what could come off as a salacious or nasty bit winds up being a deeper reckoning with the range of female pleasure, which can go from good clean fun to totally weird and gross in a heartbeat.
Soloway says the line came from another writer, who considers the Jodie Foster movie a "necessary sexual fantasy." But she says it's touched a wider nerve.
“So many people have come up to me and told me that they experience that scene as a turn on and fodder for fantasy," Soloway said. "It is such a wrong thing to say, it’s so transgressive, particularly because that scene is sort of this feminist touchpoint for women that I think galvanized women against sexual violence.”
Using humor to explore the good, bad and ugly of female sexuality is standard for Soloway, who was born in Chicago and found early success at The Annoyance Theatre with The Real Live Brady Bunch, a comedy show she co-wrote with her sister Faith, which featured Jane Lynch.
She went on to write the memoir Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants and produce and write for television programs like Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara.
Afternoon Delight is set in Los Angeles, where Soloway currently lives. Silver Lake mom Kathryn Hahn (Crossing Jordan, Parks and Recreation) tries to save Juno Temple (Killer Joe) from a life of pole dancing and prostitution, what Soloway herself calls a "silly plot." Things don’t go as planned – nor as you might expect, if you’re looking to genre conventions for clues.
“Our culture is very happy to promote the divided feminine, which is the prostitute of CSI who gets murdered by the serial killer. Or the good mother who never thinks about anything other than happy, healthy children and who has only had sex with one person and loves her husband and loves diamonds even more," Soloway said. "I feel what 'Afternoon' aims to do is sort of heal the divided feminine.”
That strategy might also help Soloway tap into a particular section of a very divided movie-going audience.
“Sometimes I call it the moms who don’t want to be mom’d to. I’ve been saying for a long time that there’s this audience of women who are parents but who don’t want to be talking about parenting, they want to be talking about their lives."
But, as if to hedge her bets, Soloway invokes another bit of cultural zeitgeist to frame her film. “It feels like in some ways it has the tone of Girls. But it’s for grown-up women."
Check out my full conversation with Jill Soloway above, where she talks about her time at the Annoyance Theatre, her collaborations with her sister Faith, how she uses improv techniques to shoot her own films, and why she can't get enough of reality television.