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Ira and Abby

Psychotherapy Taken to the Extreme

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By Jessica Pallington

Ira and Abby

Jennifer Westfeldt and Chris Messina in a scene from "Ira & Abby."

Magnolia Pictures
Woody Allen may have been the first urban neurotic to famously lie down on an analyst's couch on film, but in Robert Cary's Ira and Abby, no one ever gets up off of it. Psychotherapy-land is taken to the extreme, with nearly everyone being a shrink, having a shrink, marrying a shrink, and unshrinking a shrink.
Ira (Chris Messina), a 30-something New Yorker, is straight out of the Woody Allen Academy of Neurosis. He's unable to make decisions or complete anything he starts, including his doctorate in psychology. The one constant thing in his life is his twelve year relationship with his analyst.

Then the worst possible thing that could happen happens. His analyst breaks up with him.

Desperate to take control after this bomb drops, Ira joins a health club, and quickly finds a new therapist in an unlikely person-- the woman selling memberships. While Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt) has zero skill at getting people to join the gym, she may well be the best psychologist in Manhattan. Members come to her for advice on everything from love to head shots. She listens. She offers French fries. She cares. She's such a good shrink that six hours after Ira meets her, Abby's still excitedly helping him solve his problems. She even has a solution for his relationship problem: Marry me.

It's the perfect rebound. One therapist breaks up with you; marry the next.

Taxi Driver's Manhattan, It's Not

Sunny and impulsive, Abby is the bright light of id which invades the ego that is Ira. At first, this is exactly the cure he's been searching for. But there's a darkness to the sunshine. Just as quickly as she lightens the lives of Ira and his (yes) shrink parents, she brings unexpected disaster. Abby was not who Ira thought she was. She has a few secrets of her own. Perhaps, as the doctor says, a quick fix always brings trouble.

The stomping ground of Ira and Abby is a cross between Woody Allen lite and sitcom New York. Taxi Driver's Manhattan it's not. The world is the big, bright stage of Allen's Upper West Side, where everyone has great clothes and expensive angst. Like Seinfeld's New York, it's a small town where everyone runs into everyone they know everywhere they go. A minimum wage offers the same lifestyle as on Friends . Everybody lives in a glorious apartment. And every one's in therapy.

While the sugar-coated New York will ultimately appeal to some and turn others off, the real fun in this film comes from the surprising turns of the story. These surprises start early and come often, and to give them away would spoil what's best about Ira and Abby.

Writer and producer Westfeldt revisits the terrain of love and misunderstanding with the same breezy, romantic tone of Kissing Jessica Stein. Westfeldt's Abby, like the storyline, is wide-eyed and giddy. Messina's Ira, dark bearded and fast talking, holds tight to the neurosis factor and doesn't let go. The solid ensemble cast includes Frances Conroy and Fred Willard as Abby's equally giggly, wide-eyed parents, and Robert Klein and Judith Light as the neurotic parents of Ira.

Ms. Light's over-coiffed narcissist particularly shines, as does Maddie Corman as Ira's old flame Lea. There are several cameo appearances by New York comedic actors, including Jason Alexander, Darrell Hammond, and Chris Parnell in the roles of -- what else? -- more doctors.

The best scenes involve psychotherapy rearing its head in the oddest of places: at the Twilighty-Zoney health club, where a member who dreams of an acting career rehearses a poolside monologue for the good therapist Abby; on the subway, where a gun-wielding mugger is calmed by Abby's magic; and in a couples therapy session, where Abby becomes the doctor for the doctor and "wins therapy."

Throughout, there are mini-lectures on matrimony, and riffs on the philosophies espoused in Harvey and The Music Man, regarding believing in lies (marriage), truth (what is it?) and in learning to ultimately choose which movie you're going to use as the backdrop of your own life. Ira and Abby is one that lives in its own doll house world, with its own starry-eyed backdrop, and in the end, we know, all will be okay.

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