Meg Ryan and David Duchovny, two of the biggest romantic comedy stars of the 1990s, reunite after a long absence from the big screen in What Happens Later. Ryan not only co-stars but makes her return to directing after last stepping behind the camera for 2016’s Ithaca. This two-hander dramedy brings together two icons from an earlier era of romantic comedies and places them in the type of quirky “meet cute” premise that defined Ryan’s career.
Ryan and Duchovny play ex-lovers Willa and Bill, college sweethearts who happen to cross paths again 25 years later when they get stranded overnight in a regional airport during a snowstorm. With both flights cancelled, they have no choice but to pass the time together rehashing old memories, lingering regrets, and debating whether the spark is still there. It’s a textbook rom-com set up fueled entirely by the lead actors’ rapport.
With romantic comedies increasingly rare in today’s superhero-dominated movie landscape, What Happens Later aims to recapture some of that nostalgic genre magic. But does this small-scale reunion between two comic talents stand the test of time? Is it a worthwhile trip down memory lane or simply an indulgent exercise in sentimentality? We’ll review the film’s strengths and flaws to determine if this late-career role is a touching comeback for Meg Ryan and David Duchovny or if audiences’ affections might be better left in the past.
Rekindling Old Flames Over a Long, Stormy Night
What Happens Later centers entirely around the chance encounter between Willa and Bill, former college sweethearts who have not seen each other in 25 years. Their meet-cute comes about when both get stranded overnight in the same regional airport due to bad weather, with Willa trying to fly from Austin to Boston and Bill traveling in the opposite direction for business. This serendipitous crossing of paths forces them together to hash out their unresolved feelings and complicated history face-to-face
We learn through their witty but tense exchanges that Willa and Bill were deeply in love back in their youth but split up for reasons that remain vague initially. The charismatic Meg Ryan plays free-spirited Willa as an eccentric wellness practitioner who gives off earth mother vibes, while David Duchovny inhabits the role of the uptight, cynical business type Bill. Their contrasting personalities and worldviews quickly emerge, sparking plenty of humorous debate and banter.
As the night wears on and flights continue to get delayed by a heavy snowstorm, Willa and Bill slowly open up more about why their intense college romance fell apart so abruptly. It becomes clear both have pent-up grievances and regrets about assumptions made, things left unsaid, and not fighting hard enough for each other at the time. They peel back the layers of the past while also catching each other up on their very different lives in the 25 years since.
The revelations that eventually emerge, including a stunning secret that casts their breakup in a whole new light, threaten to reopen old wounds. But the forced proximity also allows genuine affection, attraction, and tenderness to resurface between Willa and Bill. They are given a chance to reconsider what could have been.
With the aid of wine, candlelight, and their shared history, the snowbound airport starts to feel like a bubble outside of time and space for Willa and Bill to reconcile their feelings. Whether they can make up for lost time and get a second chance remains uncertain, but the long night lays bare the depth of their enduring connection as well as the emotional baggage of the past. Their journey over the course of the film becomes as much about self-forgiveness and healing as romance.
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Meg and David’s Easy Chemistry Anchors the Two-Hander
As What Happens Later relies entirely on Meg Ryan and David Duchovny’s acting prowess and on-screen chemistry, it’s fortunate that both leads slip back into rom-com mode effortlessly. Their natural comic timing and emotional authenticity make the constant dialogue-driven scenes work.
Meg Ryan showcases her innate likability and girl-next-door appeal as the free-spirited, artsy Willa. She deftly balances her character’s quirky, new age-y qualities with a groundedness that keeps Willa relatable despite her ex-hippie vibes. Ryan’s dramatic chops also come through in the more solemn, introspective moments as Willa confronts past heartbreak and roads not taken. Fans will delight in seeing the “Meg Ryan sparkle” back in her eyes.
Meanwhile, David Duchovny counters Ryan’s warmth beautifully with his cynical, uptight portrayal of the cynical Bill. He nails the deadpan humor but also reveals real vulnerability and regret simmering beneath Bill’s buttoned-up demeanor. Duchovny’s nuanced performance avoids making Bill simply a cold finance type.
The authentic emotional connection between Ryan and Duchovny harkens back to classic romantic pairings like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Their natural rapport and complimentary acting styles make the constant back-and-forth feel organic, not staged. Whether bantering humorously or hashing out painful relationship baggage, their interactions ring true.
Fans of Duchovny and Ryan’s earlier work will also enjoy the intertextual elements as What Happens Later plays with our associations of the two stars. Ryan embodying the down-to-earth romantic heroine recalls When Harry Met Sally just as Duchovny spars wittily like in early X-Files. But they also subvert expectations, with Ryan playing the quirky free spirit this go-around. The familiarity yet freshness of the pairing works.
Overall, Meg Ryan and David Duchovny provide a masterclass in captivating two-person acting. Their lively chemistry and emotional depth keep viewers invested in Willa and Bill’s eventful night of reconnection. For audiences, it’s comforting to see these two reliably charming actors haven’t lost their spark after all these years.
Witty Script Allows the Leads to Shine
As a two-hander set primarily in one location, the strength of What Happens Later’s screenplay and dialogue is crucial. Fortunately, Meg Ryan and her co-writers deliver lively, thoughtful exchanges between Willa and Bill that both inform their complex backstory and keep the audience engaged.
The extended dialogue scenes feel authentic to how ex-lovers might catch up and reluctantly revisit a failed romance. Willa and Bill’s conversations range effortlessly from flirtatious banter to painful reveals to philosophical debates about aging and regret. Even when the script veers into contrivance, Ryan and Duchovny’s committed performances sell the emotional truth behind the words.
Some of the wittiest dialogue comes during Willa and Bill’s early verbal sparring, as they poke fun at each other’s quirks and debate the ways the world has or hasn’t changed for the better. Their opposed worldviews make for funny generational arguments about things like social media and gun control that reveal the core of their characters.
The screenplay also deftly captures the mixture of affection and lingering resentment that comes with running into an old flame. “We were just babies when we were together,” Willa comments wistfully at one point. The mature hindsight of the dialogue adds depth.
Once Willa and Bill get candid about their breakup and its aftermath, the script pivots gracefully into more dramatic, introspective territory. The revelatory confession that upends their past breakup provides a compelling narrative twist. Overall, the dialogue flows naturally between humor, passion, and pain.
While the airport setting is inherently theatrical, Ryan avoids making the dialogue feel too stagey. The words mark an emotional arc rather than just filling time. Combined with her easy chemistry with Duchovny, the strong writing allows Ryan to showcase her acting range. What Happens Later succeeds primarily as an effective sprawling conversation between two people with a complex history.
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Meg Ryan’s Deft Direction Anchors the Drama
As both the director and star of What Happens Later, Meg Ryan had the challenge of helming an intimate two-hander heavily dependent on performances and dialogue. Luckily, she brings nuance and aesthetic flair to the film’s potentially limited airport setting.
Ryan takes an intentionally minimalist approach to steer into the theatricality of the single-location premise. She lets the exchanges between Willa and Bill take center stage by avoiding distracting camerawork. The shot selection relies heavily on closeups, two shots, and the occasional wide framing of the deserted airport.
The muted color palette of grays and fluorescent lighting enhances the liminal, surreal mood of the empty airport at night. Cinematographer Bartosz Nalazek’s striking interplay of cold tones and warmth from candlelight is visually arresting. Ryan also finds creative ways to keep the camera dynamic through subtle movement and blocking.
Small stylistic touches like the kinetic handheld work during Willa and Bill’s climactic argument scene punctuate the drama. The dreamy, romantic montages of the pair dancing also showcase Ryan’s talents behind the camera. Overall, her polished direction works seamlessly with the acting and script.
What Happens Later is ultimately a subdued yet stylish drama. Ryan’s choice to rely on her actors’ emotional authenticity shows confidence and focus as a director. She crafts an inviting space for her stars to recreate their magical chemistry.
Contemplating Love, Regret, and What Might Have Been
Despite its conventional rom-com premise, What Happens Later explores some bittersweet themes of aging, nostalgia, and the purpose we assign to past relationships. Through Willa and Bill’s eventful night of reconnection, the story touches on universal ideas about regret, second chances, and using the past to take stock of one’s life.
The overall tone balances melancholy and whimsy. There is a wistful quality to watching Willa and Bill rediscover their connection at a point when middle age has changed their outlooks. Their reminiscing takes on an almost elegiac mourning for youth. Yet the playful, warm interactions between Ryan and Duchovny keep things from becoming too heavy.
Above all, the film reflects thoughtfully on the meaning we attach to old flames and what could have been. Willa and Bill clearly symbolize redemption and an idealized romance to each other. Their renewed bond stirs feelings of nostalgia but also deeper introspection about the paths not taken.
There is humor and sweetness in the missed connections and misunderstandings between them. But Ryan also touches insightfully on the need for self-forgiveness when looking back at failed relationships in hindsight. What Happens Later argues for the importance ofclosure and healing the past’s scars in order to embrace the future.
While packaged as a romantic comedy, the movie ultimately offers more emotionally complex observations about getting older but staying hopeful. Through Willa and Bill’s ups and downs, it celebrates the human capacity for growth and reconciliation.
Uneven Pacing Creates Lulls
As a dialogue-driven two-hander, What Happens Later lives or dies based on the strength of its script and how well it sustains dramatic momentum. Unfortunately, the film suffers from some pacing issues that make its nearly two-hour runtime feel bloated.
The premise inherently limits high-stakes narrative action, but the plot progression still lacks enough variation to justify the extended conversations. There are several protracted sections where Willa and Bill seem to stall on certain topics or repeat themselves. The airport setting starts to feel claustrophobic.
Moments that do advance the plot, like the big revelation about their breakup or rekindled slow dance, feel spaced too far apart. The pacing flags when Ryan relies on musical montages and make-up conversations to burn time. Lingering on Willa and Bill’s renewed connection is important but becomes tedious.
To the film’s credit, the chemistry between Meg Ryan and David Duchovny makes even the talkier scenes enjoyable. But there is a distinct lack of driving tension or escalation through the second half. The low-key mood has its charms but also causes the pacing to drag.
With some tighter editing and a greater sense of momentum between story beats, What Happens Later could have better maintained its romantic, witty energy at a brisk 90 minutes. The uneven pacing prevents the film from fully sticking the landing.
Sound Design and Score Evoke the Film’s Melancholy Whimsy
On the positive side, What Happens Later does succeed in using audio elements like music and sound design to establish the movie’s odd, melancholy tone.
The lone airport announcer voice punctuating the silence heightens the sense Willa and Bill are in their own private world. His oddly omniscient narration adds a layer of deadpan comedy. The omnipresent soft background noise of planes and airport sounds grounds the fantasy.
The orchestral score by Will Bates fleshes out the bittersweet, emotional atmosphere. It relies heavily on wistful piano that captures the pair’s nostalgia along with lyrical strings in the romantic moments. Upbeat pop songs like “Pure” by Lightning Seeds enhance the playful chemistry between Ryan and Duchovny.
However, some of the music choices become too pronounced. The climactic argument scene is overscored. The recurring twinkly piano motif gets repetitive. Overall though, the audio reinforces the movie’s strange blend of melancholy and hopefulness.
The sound design smartly isolates Meg Ryan and David Duchovny’s dialogue within the vast empty airport. Their intimate exchanges are made to feel like the only things that matter in this surreal space outside of time.
An Enjoyable But Flawed Trip Down Rom-Com Memory Lane
What Happens Later proves an enjoyable if uneven nostalgia trip buoyed by the tried-and-true chemistry of stars Meg Ryan and David Duchovny. The romantic premise largely delivers the witty, emotional payoff viewers hope for from reuniting these two genre veterans. However, the thin story struggles to support its nearly two-hour runtime.
On the positive side, Duchovny and especially Ryan recapture their likable, charming screen personas with ease. Their acting elevates otherwise stagey dialogue scenes. Ryan also brings a thoughtful direction style that maximizes the intimacy. The script provides plenty of funny, insightful exchanges about love and regret. Fans of classic romantic comedies will appreciate the familiar beats and fantasy wish fulfillment of getting a second chance.
That said, the plot itself offers few surprises. Dramatic stakes stay low as not much really happens beyond the conversations. The pacing drags through the bloated second half as moments that could advance the story get spaced too far apart. The single setting starts to feel claustrophobic. For all their winsome chemistry, Duchovny and Ryan cannot entirely distract from structural issues.
As a piece of pure nostalgia, What Happens Later largely works on the strength of our affection for the lead actors. But the story shortcomings prevent it from reaching the beloved status of Ryan’s earlier rom-com triumphs. It merits a mildly positive review for older fans yet will leave others underwhelmed.
The movie has enough genuinely touching emotional scenes to avoid feeling like a cheap nostalgia cash-in. But the uneven execution keeps it from recapturing the genre’s best. The target audience is clearly viewers with fondness for Ryan and Duchovny hoping to see them together again. As comfort-food romantic comedy, it satisfies that craving but doesn’t reinvent the form.
An Imperfect Yet Pleasant Nostalgia Trip
What Happens Later makes no claims of being groundbreaking cinema. It sets out simply to capitalize on the nostalgic goodwill towards Meg Ryan and David Duchovny by placing them back in a familiar, likable rom-com setup. On that modest goal, the film largely delivers. It offers the pleasure of easy chemistry between two stars whose heyday was arguably the rom-com’s peak era.
While far from Ryan’s best work, her second directorial effort proves she still understands the genre’s tropes and how to wring empathy from star-crossed lovers. What Happens Later should leave fans smiling from the easy rapport between her and Duchovny despite its narrative shortcomings. At its best, their bittersweet chemistry conjures up the comforting familiarity of a classic genre pairing.
Could the thin premise have supported stronger plotting and higher dramatic stakes? Certainly. But the surface-level appeal of reviving two bright stars who always displayed effortless charisma together makes up for subpar writing. Nostalgia alone won’t satisfy all audiences. But for a certain demographic, it scratches a comfort-food itch quite nicely. Sometimes recreating past magic, however imperfectly, is reward enough.
What Happens Later
What Happens Later will satisfy nostalgic viewers craving the easy chemistry of Meg Ryan and David Duchovny back together, but the story surrounding their charming reunion struggles to support the lengthy runtime. The stars recapture their appeal despite flaws in pacing and plotting.
- Strong lead performances from Meg Ryan and David Duchovny with excellent chemistry
- Witty, insightful dialogue that explores themes of love, regret, and aging
- Ryan's thoughtful direction creates intimacy within the confined setting
- Captures the melancholy nostalgia of reconnecting with past love
- Romantic premise will satisfy fans of classic romantic comedies
- Plot is fairly thin without much narrative momentum
- Uneven pacing causes the lengthy runtime to drag
- Lack of escalating dramatic tension or stakes
- Repetitive conversations become tedious in second half
- Airport setting starts to feel claustrophobic over time
- Some contrived or predictable story moments
- Uneven tonal shifts between humor and drama