Nobody cares “What Happens Later”

What Happens Later (Meg Ryan, David Duchovny) – Can you find magic after years of being apart? This is the fundamental question behind both the plot of What Happens Later and Actress/Director Meg Ryan’s flagging career. The answers are “maybe” and “no.”

After eight years off the big screen, Meg Ryan, once America’s sweetheart, stars, directs, and co-wrote this screenplay about a couple who accidentally reunites at a regional airport while stranded by a snowstorm. Not having communicated for 25 or more years, they begin a dialogue – an interminable back and forth – rehashing their relationship, talking about their lives since their break-up, and seemingly re-sparking their passions.

Adapted from a play, What Happens Later takes an interesting premise, adds a touch of magic, and turns it into a mess. From a dramatic point of view, it certainly plays better on a live stage than on a massive movie screen. It is very “talky.” Plus, there are only so many places you can film a two-hour movie in a regional airport (this was filmed at the NW Arkansas Airport in Bentonville). What it lacks in setting, it tries to engage with a snow-globe of shots from outside the airport.  The snow is so fake it is almost laughable.

Dedicated to Nora Ephron, the screenwriter and director responsible for Ryan’s biggest hits, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail), the film and its script are rarely as snappy or clever as Ephron’s. But there are moments when the repartee matches the moment. Ryan and her co-star, David Duchovny, whose own career has been languishing, have an effective but not explosive chemistry. Surprisingly, Duchovny seems more tuned in than Ryan.

Thus, the film is only marginally interesting and in need of a rewrite. But worse, I just couldn’t get past Meg Ryan losing her seemingly endless on-screen charm. I would have attended as many romantic comedies as she was willing to make as she aged into her 40s. Heck, I probably would have married her if she had just asked. But she opted instead to tackle more serious roles, like Courage Under Fire and Proof of Life, in which she acquitted herself quite well. But now that she has reached her 60s, the spark just isn’t there anymore.

Maybe it’s the writing. Or maybe Ryan aged out after Kate & Leopold, I.Q., and City of Angels. Watching this movie, I felt like I was watching an aging quarterback trying to play just one more year (yes, I mean you, Ben Roethlisberger). I wanted her to have the same magic, and she just doesn’t. Yes, there are moments; just not enough.

At the box office, this film performed terribly. It moved to streaming (at a discounted rate) after doing only $3 million. And that is never a good sign.

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