I cannot emphasize enough the impact Meg Ryan has made in the rom-com genre. When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail – she dazzles in every single one of them. Even lesser movies work because she’s a wonderful lead. So it’s great to see her again in a romantic movie, especially one built in the vein of Nora Ephron’s films (the film is also dedicated to her).
What Happens Later functions as a sort of epilogue to a rom-com. William (David Duchovny) and Willa Davies (Meg Ryan) — it’s supposed to be cutesy thing that they’re both called W. Davies — were in a relationship over 25 years ago. William ended the relationship abruptly, so the pair never had proper closure. So when a chance meeting in an airport on Leap Day presents itself, Willa seizes the opportunity to do a post-mortem of their relationship, to ask William all the questions she never got to all those years ago. And he can’t avoid these questions, because there’s no escape since all flights are suspended temporarily due to inclement weather. The airport itself (voiced by Hal Liggett) seems to be scheming to reunite them – it’s very magical realism territory.
Ryan and Duchovny have lovely chemistry together, and they’re each very believable in their roles. Ryan sensitively portrays the disappointments in love that Willa has faced over the years, and the love she still carries for William. And even though William has been able to move on – he got married and has a daughter – he’s never been able to find a connection that rivals what he had with Willa. The movie sometimes feels like Before Midnight, in a context where the leads never ended up together.
However, where it differs from the Before movies is the script. The screenplay is not as witty or funny as it thinks it is, and even with dynamic performers like Ryan and Duchovny, there’s only so much they can do to make the material compelling. The film can feel so long and stretched out at times, with more and more layers tacked on in a way that feels wholly superfluous.
The early parts of the film, with all that stylised dialogue and the characters talking over each other frequently, actually detracts from its more emotionally genuine segments later on. It feels artificial, unnecessary, and even a little annoying. It’s when William and Willa bare their truths and hearts to each other that the film becomes something quite wonderful.
Despite the fact that it’s a one-location film, Ryan does a fairly good job in moving the characters around appropriately, and there’s some wonderfully staged shots. I also like the frequent breakaways to the snowy setting outside the airport, which endows the film with both a whimsical and melancholic vibe. Willa and William can kookily dance to the song ‘Pure’ by The Lightning Seeds – fantastic song choice – but also have to deal with their pending separation once they leave this airport.
Do I wish Meg Ryan’s big comeback was in a better written film? Yes. Did I enjoy seeing her back on screen? Also yes. So I guess What Happens Later just happens to be a mixed bag.
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Ryan and Duchovny deliver compelling, affecting performances despite the lackluster screenplay.
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