Meg Ryan’s second attempt at directing showcases a high level of confidence, particularly in her attempt to emulate the success of Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally. However, her film What Happens Later, also known as When Meg Met David Duchovny, falls short in comparison to the genre’s best examples. Despite being a two-hander romcom with Ryan as the star, it fails to live up to her previous romantic comedies.
Ryan’s association with the romantic comedy genre lasted for many years due to her incredible warmth and charisma. She possessed a magical, indescribable charm that only a few other actors, like Hepburn, Roberts, McAdams, and Blunt, have ever had. However, the recent romcom resurgence, upon closer examination, has not produced many true successors. Despite this, it is a simple pleasure to see Ryan return to not only the genre but also acting in general. While her performance may not be particularly memorable, it is enjoyable to see her briefly back in this mode. Alongside Duchovny, they effortlessly make it look easier than their younger counterparts in streaming pairings. Their combined energy makes the film a low-stakes yet entertaining watch.
The movie starts with a scene at an airport where the main characters, who had a messy breakup 25 years ago, unexpectedly meet again. This time, it’s during a snowstorm at a small airport. They are brought together by chance and spend time together while reminiscing about their past relationship, with some overly cute magical elements added in.
The movie is based on Steven Dietz’s play from 2008 and may have been more suitable for the stage due to Ryan’s insistence that only he and background characters appear, creating a distant and eerie atmosphere. The airport is sparsely populated, adding to the feeling of isolation, and leading to the expectation of a supernatural twist. Is this purgatory? Have they already died? Are we also trapped there? However, the plot, if it can even be called that, moves along predictably with snappy arguments and emotional monologues. When their exchanges become more intense and chaotic, our interest is piqued and we see the depth of their relationship, for better or for worse.
But when your 105-minute film is based entirely on one elongated conversation between two characters, even if the two leads are more then capable, your dialogue has to be strong or surprising enough to demand our attention alone. There are flashes, especially when the pair revert to grinchy elders bemoaning modernity, but by the last act what might have felt fresh initially starts to grow musty, and we feel as stuck as they are, a repetitive push and pull dampening our investment in the will or the won’t they of it all.
Rewording: The fact that Ryan is returning to the romantic comedy genre reminds us of her unique talent in this type of film. However, it also leaves us wanting more, as the answer to “What Happens Later” is ultimately quite minimal.
The film “What Happens Later” is now playing in theaters in the US and will be released in the UK shortly.