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Pajama game 'Flannel' fails to dig below the surface

As "Flannel Pajamas" opens, some of the characters are sitting in a Manhattan diner, where a psychiatrist has just introduced two of her patients via a blind date. They're hitting it off.

But perhaps the film itself, not just the characters, should have been seeing a counselor. After all, it has a significant identity problem.

At the start, it seems to want to be a romance, perhaps even a romantic comedy, albeit one that has some significant sex and bits of full-frontal nudity. (It's enough to make one wonder if Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were young and making films today whether they would have to be exchanging banter while nude and writhing.)

But the second half of "Flannel Pajamas" turns into something darker, turning clues from the start into a more serious meditation on the nature of relationships and marriage.

It's a film that dances around one of the darker issues at the heart of modern America: What happens when the products of a generation of divorce and family wreckage -- who have had to draw themselves inward and focus on themselves just to survive -- get ready to couple?

"Flannel Pajamas" attacks that. The indie film, which debuted at Sundance in 2006, just doesn't do it as well as it could.

Justin Kirk ("Weeds," "CSI" and HBO's adaptation of "Angels in America") and Julianne Nicholson ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Conviction" and "Ally McBeal") are veteran TV actors who translate well to the bigger screen as Stewart and Nicole, but their story doesn't.

At 124 minutes, the film is excruciatingly long -- particularly the downward spiral. And the film's conclusion is inconclusive, not in an open-ended sense as much as "the test audiences didn't like our endings, so we slapped this on."

It's a shame, because the ground is there to be plowed. This is a film that wants to be known for its humanity and depth, but director Jeff Lipsky only gets halfway there. "Flannel Pajamas" lacks the humor and the delicate touch required to let the audience see inside the two main characters.

Those are elements that are present when two of the supporting actors, Jamie Harrold and Rebecca Schull, are on screen. Harrold is underused as Jordan, Stewart's Icarus of a younger brother, while Schull stands out as Nicole's surprisingly complicated mother.

For most of "Flannel Pajamas," though, Kirk and Nicholson are left to reveal through their actions -- and ever so slowly -- why their characters may have been seeing the counselor in the first place.




2 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Justin Kirk, Julianne Nicholson, Rebecca Schull and Jamie Harrold

DIRECTOR: Jeff Lipsky

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes


THE LOWDOWN: The rise and fall of a relationship as the hearts' secrets are gradually revealed.

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