Pair Essentials: Ira & Abby keeps its romance simple.

Sign up for our free newsletter

The New York romantic comedy Ira & Abby wastes no time establishing the personalities of its main characters. Ira (Chris Messina), a 33-year-old doctoral candidate, is introduced on a couch, deluging his therapist with a Woody Allen–worthy burst of introspection about how he feels fat, panicky, and wishes he could stay there all day. Abby (scripter Jennifer Westfeldt) sells gym memberships, but more often she doesn’t: When Ira shows up and waits forever for a tour, she breezily admits that no, she’s not busy, she just forgot he was there. It’s OK, though, because Abby’s luminous, caring, and “highly nice,” so open that she hugs Ira’s bare belly and suggests he just take up running because the gym’s not that great. Some six hours later, they’re still talking, so they decide to get married. At this point, Ira & Abby is a genial if familiar film that promises nothing more than some opposites-attract kookiness, especially when we meet the parents: Ira’s folks (Judith Light and Robert Klein) are uptight analysts, while Abby’s (Frances Conroy and, in an undeniable sign of impending wackiness, Fred Willard) are happy hippies. But Westfeldt, who also wrote and starred in 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein, goes deeper to offer a thoughtful discussion of marriage and the impossibility of ever completely knowing another person. The movie is an obvious Allen homage, its busy storyline featuring overlapping relationships and lots of therapy, so a fondness for the style is a prerequisite. But even viewers who can’t get enough neuroses-filled valentines to New York will need to pass the Abby test to enjoy the movie overall. It’s easy enough to buy that the whole world loves her when she’s listening to someone’s relationship problems or countering Ira’s bleak worldview. But hugging a stranger’s naked stomach? Asking a subway robber, in a quite ridiculous scene, how much money he needs, and then going to each passenger herself to “borrow” some cash? Abby’s drawn as a near-saint at times, and her über-sweetness is a potential deal breaker. If you can get past that, though, there are plenty of genuinely uplifting moments here, as well as excellent attempts to answer the movie’s central question of why, if there are no good marriages, anyone bothers to get married. The bigger surprise: More wit than the movie’s “You have no messages!” answering-machine beginning suggests.