"Ira & Abby" | They meet cute and stay cute

Jennifer Westfeldt, with her button eyes and eager smile, is the sort of performer who was once called a "comedienne"; she's got a soft, breathless voice and a way of rushing through a line as if she's afraid she might trip if she slows down. (Carole Lombard would often, hilariously, deliver her lines like this, as if wary of a verbal pratfall; Reese Witherspoon can do it, too.) In "Kissing Jessica Stein" (which she co-wrote), Westfeldt was charmingly funny as a mildly neurotic young woman trying lesbianism on for size. Here, in "Ira & Abby" (which she wrote), she gives us another variant of the same persona; a dippy, gentle presence who lights up the movie like a sunbeam.

And she's written a movie that brings something unexpected to the romantic-comedy genre: the romance of what happens after romance fails. Ira (the likable Chris Messina) is a single New Yorker who's been in analysis for many years; so many that his analyst finally kicks him out. Feeling unhappy and fat, he wanders into a gym and meets Abby, the world's worst gym-membership saleswoman. "It's not that great, really," she says airily of the club, as if suddenly realizing it. "I'm sorry you waited."

The sales pitch goes badly, but the day goes well: "It was so nice meeting you today and having sex with you and meeting your folks," says Ira at the end of it. They marry, and what's usually the end of romantic comedy becomes the beginning. What do you do when you've married someone so sweet, she hugs the Bed Bath & Beyond cashier? And what happens when you find out a few things about her past?

Both Ira and Abby come complete with zany parents: Ira's are uptight analysts (Judith Light, Robert Klein), Abby's are giggly free spirits (Frances Conroy, Fred Willard). This is the sort of New York in which everyone moves in the same circles and keep bumping into each other; it feels familiar, but Westfeldt and director Robert Cary find just enough surprises. The cast, filled with New York stage actors (Donna Murphy, who co-starred with Westfeldt on Broadway in "Wonderful Town," turns up in a small role), gives the story a warm feeling of community. "Ira & Abby," in its breezy, low-key way, will make audiences happy — something Westfeldt already knows how to do.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com