"Ira & Abby" marks the 1,056,264 time a film has been set in New York City, using the claustrophobic neuroses of the lead characters as a comedic device. If you can stomach the bankrupt conception of the picture, there's a swell breeze of a romantic comedy inside worth the trouble.
Ira (Chris Messina) is a troubled, analyst-dependent guy working his way through a failed relationship and body issues that have kept him fearful of the world. Looking to join a gym, he meets Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), a free-spirit who takes to Ira immediately. Married soon after their introduction, the two hope for a loving future, but Ira's insecurities and Abby's deceptions are impossible to swiftly overcome, starting the couple on a roller coaster of love that soon effects their respective parents (Fred Willard, Judith Light, Robert Klein, and Frances Conroy).
Jennifer Westfeldt burst onto the indie film scene with 2001's "Kissing Jessica Stein," a remarkably pedestrian lesbian comedy that found success with the suburban art-house daredevils, who found the film's noxious New York locations and Westfeldt's sitcom screenwriting their statement of acceptance. Well, Westfeldt is back at it again, only this time she's got a hankerin' for heterosexual heat, albeit one tempered by the distance of love at first sight.
To get the ugliness out of the argument early, "Ira & Abby" is sickening in the way it triumphantly trots out New York clichés, from Upper West Side snobbery to the reliance of psychiatric intervention to sort out all problems. Apparently, someone needs to stage an intervention and pry Westfeldt away from her Woody Allen DVDs. The influence of the master is all over "Ira & Abby," but in unimaginatively sycophantic ways, not loving creative germination. The lack of location stimulation sunk the rancid "Stein" to the ocean floor, and, early on, it threatens to do the same for "Ira & Abby."
Miraclously, Westfeldt and director Robert Cary have enough dramatic seed to work with, standing "Ira & Abby" to attention with unexpected performances and twisty screenwriting that maintains a spark of surprise throughout the whole picture. The theme of impulsive behavior dominates the motivations of the characters and Westfeldt dreams up some interesting trials for our heroes, including a series of marriages and the old standards of miscommunication and jealousy. As stated before, the actress/screenwriter doesn't quite know how to break out of her "Three's Company" templates, but "Ira & Abby" demonstrates a stronger commitment to elongated dramatic response, in place of simple cutesy crud.
While Ira and Abby's thin-ice love affair provides entertainment, Westfeldt discovers more fertile ground in a subplot detailing the infidelity of Abby's father (Willard) with Ira's mother (Light). Outside of the fact that these two actors aren't typically allowed this level of seriousness, the aside clicks simply because it concerns two characters that aren't held to cartoonish standards. "Ira & Abby" is a charming film, but it's nearly great when it settles down and causally explores life's often strange complications.
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