Marriage, to me, is an absolutely insane idea. It may be because I am young, but the idea of two people deciding to be together for the rest of their lives? That goes against evolution as a whole and what our natural instincts are (natural instincts being “bang as many people as humanly possible with little to no discretion”). Ira and Abby, a 2006 independent romantic comedy, seems to be in agreement: marriage, as an institution, isn’t the best idea.
Chris Messina stars as Ira, a psychology graduate student in New York City full of neuroses and on the outs with his girlfriend of the past eight years, Lea (Maddie Corman). After being dumped by his psychologist due to the fact no progress has been made, he makes his way to the Paris Health Club to renew his membership when he meets a worker there named Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt, who also wrote the screenplay). Abby is different from Ira; while he is scared of everything, she is fearless and she is free-spirited.
After talking for over six hours, Abby proposes that they get married. Ira, being the realist that he is, is against it, seeing how his crappy his parents’ relationship is (they are also psychologists…this is a running theme, so get ready). However, being the persuasive woman she is, he gives in and they get engaged right off the bat. Their parents have differing opinions on this. Ira’s parents, Arlene (Judith Light) and Seymour (Robert Klein), think this is a foolish idea. Abby’s parents, jingle writer Michael (Fred Willard) and his doting wife Lynne (Frances Conroy), seem to think it is a wonderful idea. A week later, Ira and Abby are newlyweds.
Cracks begin to appear quickly though, as Ira’s neuroses about marriage and love begin to manifest themselves. The two seek the counseling of a host of psychologists to solve their marital issues, played by the likes of Jason Alexander and Chris Parnell. As this goes on, Michael becomes increasingly attracted to Arlene and vice versa and they become involved in a secret affair. As Ira and Abby struggle to keep their relationship together, their parents also try to hold together the foundations of their own marriages against insurmountable odds.
The funny thing is, I’ve spent two paragraphs trying to give you an accurate portrayal of the plot, and I still don’t believe I have done it any justice. Ira and Abby is a complex story about love, and there are many layers to each of the main characters. To go into it in depth would cause me to spoil it, and I don’t want to spoil it because the simple fact is Ira and Abby is an excellent film and an excellent dissection of the differences that exist between being in love and being married.
Messina, who played Amy Adams’ husband in Julie and Julia, carries the film as the more neurotic of the two. He represents the jaded person’s perspective on marriage; the one who believes it can’t work and that something will always bring it down, and even when things are going well, you can tell that Messina’s character is going to somehow find a way to mess it up.
Westfeldt’s portrayal of Abby is more complicated than I thought it was going to be when I started to watch it. In the beginning, you just think Abby is some crazy, indie quirky woman, but you really get to know her and her motivations. Abby is looking for the kind of love her parents have, and because of this, it leads her to make decisions that are not always smart. Westfeldt wrote the script, so she had a deeper understanding of the character than if a different actress played her and she uses that to completely wow the viewer. You simultaneously fall in love with Abby, while at the same time freaking out at her behavior. Abby is honestly the most realistically complicated female character I have seen in forever.
The relationship between Ira and Abby is played in a very realistic way. Abby completes Ira in a way, being the positivity his life lacks as well as the more outspoken of the two. Messina and Westfeldt have tremendous chemistry as the lead couple, and even though the two getting married so quickly feels gimmicky, they make it work by making it come off realistic and heartfelt.
I also need to give props to Fred Willard, who turns in a performance unlike anything he has done, at least anything I have seen. His character of Michael does have some traditional “loopy goof” traits of his other work, but he infuses it with some genuine acting that completely blew my mind. This should be the stuff he’s doing more often, not just random cameos in horrible films. Why he doesn’t is beyond me, but seriously Hollywood: watch this, Fred Willard can act!
Ira and Abby is incredibly well-written too. It’s funny, each character that needs to be fleshed out is fleshed out, and the story takes twists and turns that are unexpected. It has a lot to say about marriage and about psychologists (even though I’m a psych major, I didn’t take offense to the fact that the overall message was “don’t listen to them, follow what you believe”). Westfeldt needs to be writing as much as humanly possible. If Ira and Abby is any indication of her talent, then it needs to be mined for more and more. Mainstream Hollywood could do with a romantic comedy that actually has layers to it, and she would be the one to do it.
If you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend Ira and Abby to anyone who is against marriage, or is looking for a sweet love story that doesn’t gloss over the gritty details. Either way, everyone can get something out of this film, from bitter people like me to the hopeless romantics who see themselves in Abby, to even people who wish to see Fred Willard actually do something watchable! Check this one out, seriously.