Five years after finding success at the Los Angeles Film Festival with “Kissing Jessica Stein,” where the film won the audience award and was subsequently acquired by Fox Searchlight, writer and actress Jennifer Westfeldt returned to the fest with her latest film, “Ira and Abby.” Westfeldt again wrote and starred in the feature (and again she partnered with producer Brad Zions). Directed by Robert Cary, the new film was met with a large crowd and a warm response at its second screening here Monday afternoon. Insiders have tipped the crowd-pleaser as the LA Film Fest movie most likely to score a distribution deal here.
The story of “Ira and Abby” revolves around a neurotic Upper West Side New Yorker whose shrink dumps him after twelve years. While surviving a relationship that is on the rocks, the man quickly falls for Abby (Jennifer Westfeldt), an outgoing but unsuccessful gym sales rep. Dubbed a ‘divorce comedy’, the quite funny film is essentially the story of two people who get married and then fall in love.
“i just had this idea of a couple being married and divorced several times,” noted Westfeldt, at Monday’s Q & A session about the movie, “Where their vows degenerated into more practical, capable promises.”
Westfeldt said that she wrote the script about four years ago. After a year of attending numerous weddings, and watching a bunch of other marriages fall apart, she began to wonder about the institution itself. “I really wanted the movie to be about asking the question of whether marriage works for this generation,” Westfeldt explained Monday.
The film is built around the character of Ira, played by Chris Messina, who has an incredibly hard time making decisions as simple as what to eat for breakfast, let alone settling down with someone else. “I am interested in people taking a leap,” Westfeldt added during the film’s Q & A at the Majestic Crest in Westwood. “Just like my last movie.” For that previous film, Westfeld admitted that she and producer Zions were quite naive.
Comparing the two films, Westfeldt admitted about her sophomore feature, “It was bigger, it was more expensive, i was a union movie. this time around we were much more aare of (how hard it is) to make a movie and get it bought.” She concluded, “It just felt like the stakes were higher.”
Among Sunday’s events was a conversation with director Richard Linklater at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood. Former New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell moderated the discussion in the packed and very warm room. Apparently someone had forgotten to set the air conditioning for the event, so the chat was a rather sweltering affair. The topics discussed ranged, unsurprisingly, through various aspects of his career, including the present.
Linklater said that two of his latest efforts, “A Skanner Darkly,” and “Fast Food Nation,” both of which screened at the recent Cannes Film Festival had comical edges, despite the dark nature of each film. “‘A Skanner Darkly’ is sad, but has a lot of comedy in it,” said Linklater who explained that much of his work contains comedy.
“I didn’t think 20 years ago I was particularly funny. I think it has hurt me in some ways because I can’t make a straightforward drama.” Still, Linklater lamented the lack of recognition given to comedy, in comparison to other genres. “Comedy is underrated. You don’t see many major awards going to comedy.”