Ira Black (Chris Messina) is 33 years old and unhappy. He’s a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, but is having trouble writing his dissertation. He’s in an on/off relationship with a woman named Leah, and they don’t treat each other well. Though a student of psychology, he visits a psychologist himself, and has been for twelve years with little success.

(Image via Cinemaholics)
(Image via Cinemaholics)

When we meet him, Ira is in his therapist’s office, where his therapist is about to end their long doctor-client relationship by refusing to meet with Ira anymore, due to his lack of progress. The therapist says that Ira should focus on finishing his dissertation and should try to be more spontaneous.

While eating at his usual diner, Ira notices a gym across the street. Remembering that Leah always pestered him for carrying a few extra pounds, Ira decides to check the gym out.

After what is an excruciating 45-minute wait for Ira, he finally meets with Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), a sales representative for the gym. Initially annoyed by how frequently the free-spirited, outgoing Abby gets distracted during their tour, Ira leaves the gym but comes back soon after, knowing that Abby will lend him a sympathetic ear after seeing how she acts with the gym’s members.

Ira and Abby end up spending hours talking in the gym’s unused yoga room. They fall for each other and quickly decide to marry, but then must face the consequences of their hasty decision.

Ira & Abby was written by Jennifer Westfeldt and directed by Robert Cary (Anything But Love). It was released in 2006 and is available for viewing on Netflix and on DVD.

The thing that struck me most about Ira & Abby, aside from the performances (which I’ll get to in a minute), was the dialogue. The film is slightly reminiscent of the work of writers like Nora Ephron or Woody Allen in this respect. The characters and are full of banter.

They’re also believable, despite the fact that in many cases they represent “outlier” personalities — slightly exaggerated, a bit quirkier than average. I don’t think better actors could have been chosen to pull off these characters.

Ira's idea of a good holiday card theme: "jailbirds" (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Ira’s idea of a good holiday card theme: “jailbirds” (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Both lead performances are great, Chris Messina in particular. I can’t get enough of this guy! You may remember that I raved about The Giant Mechanical Man, another indie flick in which he stars. Messina has a real knack for selecting roles that he’s perfectly suited for, and embodying those characters fully.

For all of the strength of the dialogue, Ira & Abby is written quite predictably. A couple of “twists” are thrown in but I saw them coming from a mile off. This isn’t a huge problem, though, as the predictable plot trajectory is carried out with lots of wit. The performances and characters also do well to carry the film.

I enjoyed this film so much. It’s got humor, it’s got drama. I would certainly watch it again. The score: 4.5/5

BONUS: A couple of classic film clips are shown throughout Ira & Abby, and Messina’s character goes on little rants about Harvey and The Music Man!