- Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Ira (Chris Messina) on the love train
The opening scene of Robert Cary's Ira and Abby is not something you want to see when you see as many movies as I do: a whiny, neurotic New York Jewish guy prone on his therapist's couch, comically explicating his inability to commit to a long-term relationship. Not another self-absorbed Manhattanite trying find Miss Right between therapy sessions and cups of coffee! For the love of Annie Hall, stop!
And sure enough, when Ira (Chris Messina) left the couch -- his therapist broke up with him, natch -- there followed a couple of by-the-book scenes: Ira pushed the "0" on his answering machine, and he turned up at a diner for a protracted ordering of light refreshments.
If I was watching on TV, I might have flipped, so sure of what would follow: a meet-cute with an amusingly screwed-up girl, followed by an awkward courtship -- troubles with family and ex-lovers, misunderstandings, the limits of psychotherapy -- to be wrapped up tidily with a wedding. Well, I was right about the plot mechanics, but pleasantly surprised by the execution.
Ira and Abby is a quirky, somewhat navel-gazing romantic comedy that, while hewing close to many of the genre's hallmarks, still has its own sly sparkle. Much of the credit is due Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote the lively script and who stars as Abby, an effervescent gym-membership salesperson. Westfeldt also co-wrote and starred in 2001's charmingly offbeat romance Kissing Jessica Stein.
Ira and Abby's trick is to rush the wedding -- a lot! After that, Ira and Abby's giddiness about their fresh union is shadowed by the strain it places on a pair of long-term marriages, specifically those of their parents. It's a tactic that greatly reduces our time with the gooey-eyed couple (for me, a plus), while proving Westfeldt's larger point: At best, marriage is an uneasy alliance; at worst, it may be utterly untenable.
Ira's parents -- Arlene (Judith Light) and Seymour (Robert Klein) -- are well-to-do analysts who treat their only child as an ongoing genial distraction and therapeutic work in progress. Arlene is brittle and arriviste; Seymour drinks and gripes: Both are a stitch. A free spirit like Abby is naturally the product of a two-Bohemians-in-a-brownstone -- Michael (Fred Willard) and Lynne (Frances Conroy). Unlike Ira's forever-sniping parents, these two are as happy and playful as kittens ... or are they?
What occurs between these six is a roundelay of unions, break-ups, re-unions, new starts, old baggage, betrayals, insights, half a dozen additional therapists and one befuddled subway mugger. While it dabbles in the serio-comic (there's always at least one person for whom cheating isn't funny), Ira and Abby stays bouncy, never coming to a stop-to-talk-seriously moment. In fact, the film's Big Talk Scene is so big -- that is to say, crowded -- that it's hilarious.
Oh, and that much-chased-after marriage thing -- maybe it's for you, and maybe's it not. All romantic comedies should be so sensible.
Opens Fri., Dec. 7.