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Flannel Pajamas: Uncomfortably numb

Film gets to the down and dirty of love

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If there is one perennial bumper crop in American moviemaking, it is the relationship film. The stages of romantic courtship seem tailor-made for dramatic exposition: First comes love, then comes marriage ... well, you know the rest.

Despite the plenitude of romantic movies, it is the rare film that captures some of the real nitty-gritty intimacy of a couple's life together.

Flannel Pajamas is the kind of film whose original take on old-as-time material makes it stand apart from the pack. Like a scientific study of genus human, director Jeff Lipsky (October Films' co-founder) focuses from beginning to end on a couple, Stuart Sawyer (Justin Kirk) and Nicole Reilly (Julianne Nicholson), who meet on a blind date in a New York diner, court, marry and then experience the kind of difficulties that threaten to destroy their relationship.

Part of the film's sense of veracity undoubtedly is due to its leads, both attractive but hardly movie-star beautiful -- it makes us connect with them as people like us.

To the film's detriment, the dialogue can often veer into the kind of stilted, painfully studied indie-speak that sometimes keeps the ideas presented from being as authentically stated as the director might like.

In many ways, Stuart and Nicole seem like an improbable couple. She is mousy, freckled and distinctly odd, peeing in her bathtub in her tiny New York apartment rather than using the communal bathroom down the hall. By contrast, Stuart seems like a yuppie mover and shaker willing and able to take on the world. It becomes evident that Nicole is a bit lost and would like to be taken care of, and that Stuart is just the man to do it; he has recently lost his mother and holds on to a perhaps old-fashioned idea of men as the providers and caretakers of the weaker sex.

Despite being neuroses-plagued Manhattanites, the pair is in some regard every couple, as foible-ridden as any of us. They debate the finer points of college-loan debt, the best time to have babies and find that making a relationship work in the real world is harder than it looks.

Flannel Pajamas. 3 stars. Directed by Jeff Lipsky. Stars Justin Kirk, Julianne Nicholson, Rebecca Schull. Rated R. Opens Fri., Feb. 23. At Plaza Theatre.

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