Dir/scr: Jeff Lipsky. US. 2006. 124mins.
With his reportedly autobiographical FlannelPajamas, former arthousedistribution specialist Jeff Lipsky successfully tracksthe emotional ups and downs of a relationship, moving from sublime rapture andsurrender to grim heartbreak.
Guided by two excellent leadperformances and shaped by some raw writing, he reveals a finely shaded and tactilesense of physical expression, from the play between his characters' bodies tosudden switches of mood and tone.
Playing in Sundance'sdramatic competition, Flannel Pajamas deserves attention on the festival circuit andshould also deliver decent upscale numbers for the right domestic distributor.Internationally, prospects are less certain, although it merits play inFrancophone and English-language territories.
Lipsky worked at John Cassavetes'landmark Faces Inc distribution company and his executive producer for this,his second feature, is Mike Leigh's producer Simon Channing-Williams.Flannel Pajamas'bruising naturalism and physical abandon conjure up Cassavetes,while the nuanced entwinement of religion, money and class echo Leigh.
At its best, it plays likean American Scenes From A Marriage, as the capableand attractive cast capture a raw honesty and emotional accuracy from thecontradictory impulses of relationships, the need for safety and longing andthe often contradictory desire for independence.
"Don't get nervous, he'sJewish," the willowy Nicole (Nicholson) tells her mother (Schull)in a call after her whirlwind introduction to Stuart (Kirk), a confidentBroadway marketing consultant. Stuart creates idealised, even invented, portraitsof his subjects, and this tension between the imagined and actual is the movie'sdriving metaphor.
From their first date, at aNew York restaurant surrounded by friends and intimates, the attraction andchemistry between the two is palpable. That same intertwined network of friendsand family also create a rhyming series of complications, particularly Stuart'sloopy, unconventional brother Jordan (Harrold) andNicole's best friend, the sexual adventuress Tess(Altman).
"It's time for me to protectsomebody," Stuart says after visiting Nicole's family in Montana at Christmas,and the movie's first half concludes with a beautifully sustained weddingsequence. Agreeing to delay having a child for two years, the couple live in ahigh-rise Manhattan apartment, and Stuart subsidises Nicole's catering company.
The tragic death of a criticalplayer and their altered responses to family and career disappointment beginsthe inexorable downward trajectory of the relationship. The dissolution isrecorded gradually in the minor accretion of arguments and petty resentmentsthat illustrate the growing gulf.
But Lipskyis less successful in sketching a wider work that touches on tortured familyhistories, tragedy and even anti-Semitism, and the power and force of thecentral drama is stretched too thin to accommodate this scope.
The concluding scenes, shapedby pent-up hurt and anger - including a stark confrontation between Stuart andNicole's mother, where she uncorks an anti-Semitic rant - is not justunwarranted by the preceding material but so awkwardly inserted into the narrativethat it punctures the drama's resourcefulness and vitality. Furthermore,Nicole's emotional withholding feels punitive, coming dangerously close tooutright misogyny in her cruelly punishing treatment.
Rather Lipskyworks best in miniature, detailing private suffering, emotionalhurt and personal revelation. As a character admits at one point, "my body tooktime to adapt to the body temperature of marriage."
Washington Square Films
Stephanie Roth Haberle