Ira and Abby is such a blatant crowd-pleaser, so determined to entertain us, that I wanted to kick myself for not liking it more. Why wasn't I pleased? Well, it's got too many influences, for one thing, and they're all worn on its sleeve. There's a Woody Allen thing in there, a Friends thing, a Seinfeld thing, a Dharma and Greg thing. I even thought I detected a George Kaufman thing - the wacky family from You Can't Take It With You. That's a lot of comic pedigree, but Ira and Abby never quite settles on a tone of its own. It feels derivative, secondhand.
And yet it has its moments, as when Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), the blithest of spirits, has a mugger eating out of the palm of her hand after she's through trying to help him raise the cash he would prefer to steal at gunpoint. Part Annie Hall, part Phoebe, but also something of an original, Abby is the Empathy Queen of the Upper West Side, a people person who really should have been a therapist. Instead, she works the desk at a health club, which is where she meets, falls in love with and proposes marriage to Ira (Chris Messina), all on the same day. Ira, a grad student, has trouble making decisions - important ones like what to have for lunch. So why not marry this woman who seems to have decided for him? Plus, she's nice, nice-looking and a really good listener.
The problem is, she's almost insanely empathetic, hooking up with every hard-luck case she comes in contact with, whereas Ira is pretty much the opposite, a neurotic Jew who's been in therapy so long his therapist finally dropped him out of boredom. And Westfeldt, who wrote the script in addition to playing Abby, may be on to something: the way spontaneity and indecision are flip sides of the same coin, each a way of warding off the future. But the movie also devotes a lot of time to both sets of parents, played by Judith Light and Robert Klein (as self-destructive Jews) and Frances Conroy and Fred Willard (as life-embracing Gentiles), and that's just too much of a good thing.
Westfeldt should perhaps have stuck with Ira and Abby and come up with more compelling reasons for why they should stick with each other.
Ira and Abby, Sundance