Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ira & Abby

Illustration for article titled Ira & Abby

Ira & Abby opens with a big red flag: protagonist Chris Messina on a therapist's couch in full-on fussy, jittery Woody Allen mode, delivering a petty rant about the inconveniences presented by all the other people in New York. The warning flags keep coming, as he meets eerily perky Jennifer Westfeldt, who suggests they get married immediately because she likes his face. By the time he presents the news of their impending nuptials to his manipulative, bitchy analyst mother and jaded, alcoholic analyst father, the film has started to look like a desperate mating of an Allen film with every unpleasant trend in '00s romantic comedies, particularly the "needy wuss redeemed by clingy psycho" relationship dynamic of Garden State and Elizabethtown and the discomfort humor of Meet The Parents. But while the script (written by Westfeldt, who also scripted and starred in Kissing Jessica Stein) takes a long time to rev up, it eventually starts to seem more like a winking parody of neurotic-comedy trends than yet another dim-witted echo.

The plot mostly centers on Messina and Westfeldt's troubled relationship: He agrees to their spontaneous marriage mostly out of a desire to change his pathetic life, while she's a ditzy woman-child, babbly and uninhibited, but so unstintingly sweet that she generates a trail of adoring fans. She also still lives with her effervescent hippie-dippie parents (Fred Willard and Frances Conroy), who mix oddly with Messina's cold-fish folks (Robert Klein and Judith Light). A great deal of unpleasantness ensues, as Messina becomes jealous ("I can't believe you won therapy," he grouses after Westfeldt works her magic on their marriage counselor) and Westfeldt, true to her childish character, cries a lot. Meanwhile, her dad and his mom launch a torrid affair. (Willard is a consistently hilarious comedian, but was anyone really begging to see him shirtless and shiny with post-coital sweat?)

For a good half of its length, Ira & Abby is a dire collection of re-heated Allenisms, presented in unimaginative sitcom framing, and coasting mostly on Westfeldt's bubbly magnetism. But as the arguments get more manic, the tone sharpens toward farce, the editing gets livelier, the obnoxiousness melts into glorious chaos, and it becomes easier to take the whole thing as a satire rather than a poisonous love story. It's still a mixed bag with a lot of cutesy awfulness to wade through, but the acerbic ending is enough of a punchline to suggest that Westfeldt understands what a joke this kind of film can be.