Ira & Abby
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Ira & Abby

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There are many ways to create a film in the romantic comedy vein. You can take a realistic situation and over emphasize the more comic elements. Then there is going over the top with a surreal or even absurd premise and just run with it. In this form of the genre the writer and director don’t have to worry about little things like making sense or emulating any degree of reality. One of the more recent examples of the latter format would be something like ‘My Super Ex-Girlfriend’. No one has to be concerned with upsetting someone with super powers. Somewhere in between the extremes is the latest flick by Robert Cary, ‘Ira and Abby’. The foundation of the film borders on the ridiculous but there is just the right amount of reality so as not to put off the audience completely. Romantic comedies have lasted so long as a popular venue in film for one reason, they are entertaining. Many of the biggest, most well regarded stars have made their careers in romantic comedies. Here an affable cast goes a long way into making this film work. Cary has tapped into this nicely offering a movie that stretches the limits of credibility but you don’t care, you are too busy having a reasonably good time watching.

Like many independent films this one looks like everybody involved had a great time making it. This translates to assisting the audience in getting the most possible out of the movie. A film like this doesn’t have to be overly concerned with making a big box office splash. It is sure to make enough to cover costs and ensure the next project. What appears to matter with the people involved here is the joy of making a film. There is an easy going feel here that pulls the audience into the strange world of the characters. Rather than giving the viewer yet another cute romantic comedy this one strives to provide a humorous glimpse at what goes on in the minds of these oddball characters. The humor is derived more from how they respond to the situations than the situations themselves. Something is present in this movie that has become increasingly rare in the genre, heart. There is a humanity present here that transcends the typical zany comedy about human relationships. The film may be built around hackneyed clichés but there is a feel of newness due mostly to how they are presented to the audience.

Life is not going the way Ira Black (Chris Messina) had planned. At thirty three years of age he though he would have a more settled existence. Instead Ira’s life is going from bad to worse. Ira has been in therapy for twelve years with Dr. Friedman (David Margulies). Lying on the couch he drones on that everybody annoys him, even himself. Without warning Friedman terminates the therapy telling Ira that the treatment has run its course; in other words, don’t bother to come back. The doctor’s last words of advice to Ira are that he needs change in his life. Ira has been stuck too long in limbo. He has never been able to finish his doctoral dissertation in psychology. It is not that he is all that interested in the subject it was expected of him. Both his parents Arlene (Judith Light) and Seymour (Robert Klein) are psychologists and just assumed Ira would follow in the family business. When he gets back home on the upper east side of Manhattan there are no messages on his phone, no appointments other than Friedman in his day planner. Ira has nothing going for him. At a diner he can’t even make up his mind as to what to eat. He is tempted to have a healthy salad, orders it and a burger. Across the street he sees a gym and goes in to explore the idea of joining. Ira wants change but is so deep in the rut of his life he is clueless as to how to start. There he meets Abby Willoughby (Jennifer Westfeldt), the gym’s sales consultant. She is also naturally empathic able to listen to others. This has made her the ad hoc social worker for the health conscious yuppie set.

Even though she works at a gym she doesn’t work out. Abby munches on a large McDonald’s fries as she gives Ira a tour. Ira seems upset with Abby’s natural way with other people’s problems and runs off without joining. A few minutes later he comes back to confess that he has a difficult time finishing things. He sits on the floor with Abby finishing her fries telling her the same things that he tried to tell his former therapist. Ira should have realized that Abby is just a bit strange when she lifts his shirt, hugs and strokes his stomach and asks if he has a girlfriend. As they sit in her office supposedly to discuss the membership Abby asks Ira to marry her. Abby lives to fix broken people and this seem to be the only way she can help Ira. As she explains most marriages end in divorce anyway so why not give it a shot. Ira finally figures that he has to make a change and this would bypass most of the normal time consuming rituals of courting.

When Ira tells his parents about the impending marriage they are overjoyed. The also assume it is to his long time on again off again girlfriend Lea (Maddie Corman). They are more than a little shocked to find out it is with a woman he just met that day. The Blacks meet up with Abby and drops the new couple off to meet her parents Michael (Fred Willard) and Lynne (Frances Conroy). They are more on the bohemian end of the human experience embracing the news. Much to the chagrin of the Blacks they wedding is right away; an informal affair in the back yard of the Willoughby home. It is only a short matter of time before every conceivable mishap plagues the new couple. Things go downhill as affairs and divorce surround them and Ira discovering that Abby had been married twice before the couple is in for a lot of comic mishaps.

When you think you know what will happen scriptwriter and star Jennifer Westfeldt takes you off in a completely different direction. Without giving things away the reason for the multiple marriages is not what you are lead to believe. The combination of Westfeldt’s words and Cary’s direction is excellent. Some of you may remember Westfeldt’s initial opus, ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ which was an art house darling. This film has the same humanity in it. The characters are flawed but she gets us to laugh with them not at them. The wit is delightfully dry at times and then switches to classic wacky comedy in a moment. Cary paces this film with rapidity which considering the subject is perfect. Just as the audience gets to know the characters they are married. We discover their backgrounds just as the characters do. Cary also uses the upper east side of New York City as a character. It is presented as a snooty neighborhood filled with snobs. This is contrasted with the down to earth look and feel of Abby’s neighborhood. Some of this comparison is wonderful down with visuals. The Black’s home is cold and efficient while Abby’s parents have earth tones and soft pillows all around.

This is an incredibly fantastic cast. Chris Messina plays Ira with a lackadaisical perfection. He thankfully resists taking the character over the top even underplaying him. This just makes the humor work even better. Jennifer Westfeldt is a sheer delight to watch. She is natural, easy going and easy on the eyes. She exemplifies the free spirit of her character. You can believe that she is a person that strangers would open up about the most personal aspects of their lives. The parents are especially well cast. Judith Light and Robert Klein are dead on with their portrayal of the uptight psychologists. They joke about not listening to their patients during sessions and although they laugh the audience knows it’s true. You couldn’t ask for any better than Fred Willard and Frances Conroy as Abby’s folks. Willard has played so many of these dazed characters that he has it down to an art form. Conroy was excellent as the mother in the HBO hit series ‘Six Feet Under’ and her command of the screen honed there comes across great here.

This charming film is brought to DVD by Magnolia Home Entertainment. You can always count on them for something quirky and more importantly something wonderful. The film is presented in 1.85:1 video with excellent tonal balance. The Dolby 5.1 audio is robust and gives a natural ambience. There is a great commentary track that features Westfeldt and executive producer Ilana Levine, who also has a role in the film. The ladies have a lot of fun telling the audience the details of production. This is a keeper and one that should be in your collection.

Posted 01/01/08

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