Volume 76, Number 27 | November 22 - 28, 2006

Film

Flannel Pajamas
Written and Directed by Jeff Lipsky
Starring Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson
Now showing at the Angelika Theater
(212-995-2000; angelikafilmcenter.com)

Courtesy Gigantic Pictures

Julianne Nicholson and Justin Kirk star in the dialogue-driven, indie film, “Flannel Pajamas”

Scenes from a flailing marriage

By Leonard Quart

A dialogue driven, small budget indie film, “Flannel Pajamas” is dominated by long takes and often evocative shot-reaction shot editing, depicting the courtship and marriage of two over-30 New Yorkers, Stuart (Justin Kirk, from the Showtime series “Weeds”) and Nicole (Julianne Nicholson). Stuart is a glib, Jewish man from Long Island, who makes a good living inventing fictionalized sales pitches for Broadway shows, while Julianne is a quiet, freckle-faced Catholic from a large dysfunctional family in Montana who can’t seem to hold a job.

What is most distinctive about “Flannel Pajamas” is the naturalness of the acting and dialogue, and its general avoidance of melodramatic contrivance. Stuart and Nicole meet on a blind date, and quickly build a relationship based on emotional attraction and need, and their having a lot of hot, tender sex in his high-rise apartment — one with a stunning view of Manhattan and the Hudson. In an understated manner, the marriage moves from an exhilarating high to everyday routine, and begins to flounder. Stuart and Nicole differ about owning a dog, and, more importantly, on when to have a child. The marriage is also infringed on by Stuart’s manic and mad brother, Jordan (Jamie Harrold) and by her cool, promiscuous, nurse friend Tess (Chelsea Altman), who cannot stand Stuart almost as much as he feels antipathy towards her.

Then there is Nicole’s large family with its alcoholism, divorces, abuse, and religion, which is always hovering in the wings, and leaves her with a great deal of emotional baggage. Stuart doesn’t connect to most of the family, and Nicole’s painter mother is opposed to the marriage. In the film’s most striking scene, the mother (Rebecca Schull) calmly tells Stuart she hates Jews, and believes in all the negative stereotypes about them (e.g. “he’s too sensitive like a Jew”). The scene works dramatically, but strikes a false note in a film, which doesn’t usually indulge in the bravura set piece or focus on the ethnic differences of the couple.

Both Stuart and Nicole are likable flawed people, and we root for their relationship to succeed. Stuart can be controlling, too self-confident, and a touch remote, but he emanates sweetness. Nicole is insecure, dependent, and has a much less defined persona, but she is emotionally responsive. But it’s Stuart — the director’s surrogate — who has a clearer sense of what he wants from life and elicits more of our sympathy.

Stuart and Nicole’s relationship feels utterly authentic, but the film can meander, and contains scenes that illuminate little about who they are. Yes, their interaction is real, but it can at times be uninteresting. Still, Lipsky has made an honest film about two people whose love for each other just cannot transcend their personal histories and emotional make-ups.


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