Meg Ryan’s return has potential but gets grounded.
Meg Ryan has made a name for herself in the romcom genre with hits like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” and it’s been a long time since she has released any movie. Her last film was her directorial debut of the war drama “Ithaca,” which did not find a crowd anywhere. After an 8-year hiatus, she returns to the big screen as both the director and star of “What Happens Later,” which also stars another fresh talent like David Duchovny.
So you think this could be a fresh romcom in the tradition of her best, especially since these two stars are able to use their words with the right vulnerabilities. But this movie ends up being a missed opportunity with cliches and silly elements. It ends up being unfocused.
You start the film with CGI snowflakes like it’s supposed to be a Christmas movie. Actually, it’s Leap Day. But that doesn’t mean a snowstorm can’t strand Ryan or Duchovny in the airport. You also have lousy cover versions of hit songs like “Semi-Charmed Life,” or “Learning to Fly,” which the characters have the right to complain about. And they even have a cute game when they swap wallets to see what each other has been up to through the years.
Ryan is named Willa, while Duchovny is named Bill, which are both similar names (W. Davises, if you will), and they reunite for the first time since their breakup. She’s a masseuse and he’s an IRS agent, and they begin with small talk, conflicts, and bantering. She has to help her friend get through a divorce, while he has to reconnect with his daughter. And while their stay is stressful, they can learn about their lives after their breakup, and since there’s less people in the terminal, that means they can ride around on shuttle carts.
The storm is said to be “the snowstorm of the century” with some “thunder snow” in the mix. And so, all the flights are delayed until further notice. That means the two only main characters can discuss their relationship in the tradition of a play, which this movie based off of. “Shooting Stars” by Steven Dietz to be exact.
There’s the truth about television. You can hear the people on the screen, but they can’t hear you. In this case, however, the airport announcer doesn’t answer your question when you ask about the updates, but this movie announcer does. When he says “Any unattended luggage will be destroyed,” she responds “Destroyed?,” and he says “Yes.” In fact, he says “Yes” to everything. That is until he announces the facility has to cut back on the power, and when she asks if that’s a thing, he responds: “Oh, it’s a thing.”
“What Happens Later” allows us to see Ryan back in the saddle again, and she has chemistry with Duchovny. I can’t wait to see what she does next in her movie career, but she needs the right screenplay to remind us of the 80s-90s. It all becomes tedious and derivative.
Airline delays are stressful in real life, and the movie makes sense in that notion. In fact, I was reminded of how I was trapped in a layover during a rainstorm, and I didn’t know what to do at the time, but I managed to pull through. I have faith in Willa and Bill finally getting to their destinations.
Ryan deserves a comeback in her movie career, the way Brendan Fraser redeemed himself with “The Whale” and Ke Huy Quan brought back his childhood fame with “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” It’s not saying much, and I can’t recommend it, but “What Happens Later” could, at least, be the start of something better.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.