- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

If you’re the type who’d rather watch grass grow than sit through two hours of light-on-action, heavy-on-chatter films like Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and Nicole Holofcener’s “Lovely & Amazing,” then steer clear of Jeff Lipsky’s “Flannel Pajamas”; it offers yet another hyper-realist glimpse of the tenuous relationship between a man and a woman in love.

If you like this sort of thing, however, then you’ll admire the refreshing amount of authenticity and rawness that Mr. Lipsky mines from the male-female dilemma. Certain exchanges, monologues or themes may feel uncomfortably close-to-home if you’re a woman who’s ever fallen in and out of love with a man or vice versa.

In the opening scene, Stuart (Justin Kirk) and Nicole (Julianne Nicholson) hit it off on a blind date. As their romance blooms, we see much more than the typical Hollywood highlights reel; like every pair of lovers who ever lived, the two make awkward comments, accidentally reveal embarrassing habits, introduce one another to their respective families and abodes, and dish up ancestral secrets.

The cameras aren’t rolling every moment, but they do present sometimes delightful and sometimes disquieting moments that represent the bigger picture. In one instance, for example, Stuart and Nicole visit an apartment they may move into. When the couple get amorous, she wants to put the shades down; she’s modest. He wants them up, though, and she ends up compromising her values, standing naked and exposed in front of the windows and him while crying — a painful scenario that feels like a twist on Emily Mortimer’s legendary birthday-suit moment in “Lovely & Amazing.”

Small surrenders like this add up to relationship squalls later on, and eventually, the partnership unravels. Since he’s cold and doesn’t make good on all his promises and she’s constantly pestering him, it’s hard to know whom to root for — but maybe that’s Mr. Lipsky’s point: Nobody’s ever fully right when there are two sides to the story.

If words were threads, these “Pajamas” would be 300 count and amount to a lot of fabric — but there are some flaws in the construction. Some peripheral characters seem a bit inconsistent — Nicole’s sister Barbara’s dialogue and delivery feel as wooden as the sixth-grade play — and the score sometimes tries to wring more emotion out of a scene than it has earned. The biggest problem, however, is that we have no sense of how fast time is passing, which somehow seems important when we’re talking about mad love turning into just mad people.

With regard to this film, Mr. Lipsky’s best attributes are his adeptness with believable, candid dialogue (not easy in this ubertalkative format) and actors that wear “Pajamas” awfully well.

**1/2

TITLE: “Flannel Pajamas”

RATING: Not rated (contains multiple scenes of nudity, mature themes and some language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jeff Lipsky.

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes

WEB SITE: www.flannelpajamas.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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