By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
They meet in a New York City diner on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend. He, Stuart (fast-talking Justin Kirk), is a successful Broadway publicist who seems to have life all figured out. She, Nicole (freckle-faced Julianne Nicholson), is a transplanted Minnesota farm girl drowning in college debt and unsure of what she wants out of life. Though they seem to have little in common, they hit it off right away, and as the night wears on, they lose track of time — and themselves — amid currents of snappy banter:
Stuart: “I was married once before.”
Nicole: “What happened?”
Stuart: “I turned 20.”
In a way, it’s all downhill from there. They move in together. He pops the question. She accepts. He meets her parents, awkwardly — a Jew in Goyland. She wants kids. He doesn’t, at least not right away. She accuses him of being cool to her family and friends, and she may be right. He tells her she can’t get a dog, then says she can, but only if she stops talking about having a kid. And so on. Admittedly, I’ve never been married myself, but I’ve been around the relationship block enough times to know that, usually, when you start bargaining between a dog and a kid, things are headed in a bad direction.
Flannel Pajamasis probably one of the worst date movies ever made, and I mean that as a compliment to Lipsky, whose storied career as a movie distributor includes stints with such maverick independent filmmakers as John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh and Victor Nuñez, and who is clearly after the kind of emotional honesty and candor that permeates those directors’ work. In his second time behind the camera (the first was 1997’s little seen Childhood’s End), he’s made the kind of independent feature that has become something of an endangered species — neither a miniature version of a Hollywood programmer nor a glib “calling card” picture but a deeply felt, confessional, warts-and-all movie made for no other reason than its maker’s need to make it.
The results are far from perfect: For one thing, Lipsky is so far from being a fluid visual storyteller that the garishly lit, appallingly composed Flannel Pajamasmakes another two-hander talkfest Lipsky famously distributed — My Dinner With Andre— seem like Lawrence of Arabiaby comparison. But he writes (sometimes overwrites) great dialogue, draws terrific work from both Kirk and Nicholson and has a knack for crafting scenes so knowing and lived-in that they are frequently painful to watch. (One third-act encounter between Stuart and his mother-in-law — played brilliantly by Rebecca Schull — is as revealing about the latent prejudices lurking behind middle America’s genteel façade as anything in Borat.) So I guess what I’m saying is this: Flannel Pajamasisn’t for the faint of heart, but it has truths in it that are not often found at the movies these days. “Love is not as important as empathy,” Lipsky recently told The New York Times when asked what his marriage taught him. When he has a spare moment, he should give Darren Aronofsky a call.
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