Most miserablist dramas have some point—it's worth wading through a few hours of oppressive suffering to learn something about the human condition. Then there are films like Flannel Pajamas, which only teaches the life lesson "Some people shouldn't be in relationships together, or possibly in relationships at all, ever." The second feature from writer-director Jeff Lipsky (Childhood's End) is overlong and turgid, but mostly, it's horrifically frustrating. Playing witness to a catastrophically bad relationship is sad enough for friends who know the participants, and are rooting for them to escape intact. Watching strangers hurt each other pointlessly is just masochism.
Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson's relationship is clearly doomed from the first date. She brings her friends, who judge him. He pleads for her to let him be her white knight, offering her his heart and throwing his jacket in the gutter for her to step on. The indie quirk just pours off the screen, but it's never charming or cute; Kirk seems desperate, Nicholson flattered but distant. Their relationship goes in odd directions: A scene where, at his insistence, she strips for him in front of an uncurtained bay window, then stands humiliated and weeping before sex, smacks of a 9 1/2 Weeks-like journey of abuse and revelation, but the point is never developed, and the Kirk and Nicholson who emerge from the scene could be entirely different characters—which feels more like inconsistency than development or discovery.
And so things disintegrate slowly, with dozens of mundane warning signs along the way. She constantly pressures him to provide babies he doesn't want. They hate each other's families and friends. He goes overboard wheedling and soothing her, paying off her debts and financing a catering business to keep her happy; she shuts him out, or throws tantrums and accusations. They're both agonizingly needy, but they don't need each other—she needs her appallingly anti-Semitic, overprotective mother, whom she still calls "mommy," and he needs absolutely anyone who'll let him play overprotective mother. Opaque acting, excruciating dialogue, and flat, affectless direction certainly don't help, but even in brilliant hands, Flannel Pajamas would still be a movie about two horrible, unsympathetic people doing dreadful things to each other, and learning nothing in the process. Why should anyone else have to endure it too?