The Arty Semite

Salvation at the Strip Club

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Courtesy Jill Soloway

“I could have remained a well respected writer who didn’t get anything of my own made,” said Jill Soloway, the Emmy-nominated writer behind successful television shows like HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and Showtime’s “United States of Tara.” “But I stopped waiting for directing opportunities to come my way, and I built that reality myself.”

Soloway spoke to The Arty Semite as she prepared to attend the premiere of her first feature film, “Afternoon Delight,” at the Sundance Film Festival, where it is part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Soloway wrote and directed the dark comedy, about Rachel, a 30-something-year-old Jewish woman in the affluent Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, who responds to her ennui by visiting a strip club and impulsively hiring a sex worker to be her child’s nanny. The film stars Kathryn Hahn (as Rachel), Juno Temple (as McKenna, the stripper), Josh Radnor and Jane Lynch.

“The housewife thinks she’s saving someone, but she ends up being saved,” Soloway revealed. She said her aim was to take the viewer on a “stomach-dropping roller coaster of emotions” with this “pretty dirty, kind of shocking, and very funny” film.

The story of the housewife and the stripper fits well with Soloway’s long-term interest in the heroine’s journey, as opposed to the hero’s journey. She explained that the former is in the shape of a coiled spring. “Like Slinkies [sic], female-centered plotlines seemed powered by their own momentum…[female protagonists move] from dyad to dyad,” she once wrote. “Sometimes it looks as if you’re traveling in circles because you’ve come back to the same place. But then you realize you’re spiraling up a mountain. Higher up, better view. That’s the journey I try to write about now. It can make a girl dizzy. But at least it’s true.”

Soloway said she was looking to put a “zeitgeist-y” spin on this journey, and she couched it in a very Jewish setting. “All the characters — except for McKenna — are Jewish, there’s a Shabbat scene, and a JCC,” she said. “There are a lot of things in the film that Jews will appreciate and identify with.”

This first stab at directing a feature film has been a chance for Soloway to challenge herself and grow. “In TV, it’s much more collaborative,” she explained. “As a film director, you have to be ready to stand out at the forefront everyday, to be willing to stand behind every choice you make.”

She’s thrilled that “Afternoon Delight” is at Sundance, and would have been happy had it been put in any category. But the fact that it was selected as one of only 16 films for the U.S. Dramatic Competition provides an extra boost to her confidence. “It means this film is looked at as valid, as an important piece of culture.”

Watch Jill Soloway talk about directing ‘Afternoon Delight’:


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