Review: Flannel Pajamas

Flannel Pajamas details a love affair whose insightfulness slightly outweighs its sluggishness.

Flannel Pajamas
Photo: Gigantic Pictures

October Films founder-turned-indie filmmaker Jeff Lipsky charts a relationship’s lifespan in Flannel Pajamas, a series of scenes from a love affair whose insightfulness slightly outweighs its sluggishness. Set up on a blind date by their therapist, Stuart (Justin Kirk) and Nicole (Julianne Nicholson) find themselves smitten from the start, their immediate attraction strong enough to negate differing life goals and religious upbringings, and eventually lead to romance, sex, a joint apartment, and marriage. As a case study in what brings people together and then drives them apart, the script’s destination is never in much doubt. If driven by a somewhat ordinary modus operandi, however, the film’s perceptiveness is frequently bracing, capturing the way starry-eyed proclamations and promises can foreshadow uglier truths, and—as in a sterling underplayed scene—the means by which simple gestures such as asking a girlfriend to call your relatives on your behalf can signal a momentous shift in trust and togetherness. The characters’ personality differences are clear from the start, with Stuart’s career as a writer of phony playbill biographies juxtaposed with wannabe chef Nicole’s forthright honesty, though Lipsky allows his protagonists’ hypocrisy, nastiness, and resentment to slowly ooze out from underneath an accumulating mountain of disagreements. An imbalance in character construction somewhat hinders Flannel Pajamas’ revelations, as Stuart’s myriad failings are revealed through behavior, while Nicole’s emotional and psychological condition—dominated by her desire to have a baby whose conception Stuart wants to indefinitely postpone—is left more opaque until a preposterous third-act speech from her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother Elizabeth (Rebecca Schull) shines light on the root causes of her anxiety, distrust, and low self-esteem. The script’s discerning attention to minor moments doesn’t preclude a substantial number of off-key incidents, just as its fondness for erudite talkativeness doesn’t prevent the characters’ interactions from ranging between the believable and the far-fetched. Yet as a result of Kirk and Nicholson’s authentic, warts-and-all performances, as well as Lipsky’s prosaic direction staying largely out of his writing’s way, the film more often than not rings true, radiating an emotional intricacy that complicates Elizabeth’s superficially true statement that “It’s no great mystery why marriages don’t work.”

 Cast: Justin Kirk, Julianne Nicholson, Rebecca Schull, Jamie Harrold, Chelsea Altman, Michelle Federer, Tom Bower  Director: Jeff Lipsky  Screenwriter: Jeff Lipsky  Distributor: Gigantic Pictures  Running Time: 124 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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