Meg Ryan’s second directorial effort showcases a strong sense of confidence, particularly in her attempt to emulate the success of Nora Ephron’s iconic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. However, while the film, titled What Happens Later (also known as When Meg Met David Duchovny), falls short of its intended goal, it still pales in comparison to Ryan’s previous romantic comedies.
Ryan has been closely associated with this genre for many years because she radiated warmth and charm, possessing a special charm that only a few other actors like Hepburn, Roberts, McAdams, and Blunt have had. The recent romcom revival, while not as great upon closer examination, has not produced many true successors. So, even though her return to the genre and acting in general may not be particularly memorable, it is still a delight to see her briefly in this mode. Just like Julia Roberts and George Clooney in last year’s “Ticket to Paradise,” Ryan and Duchovny make it all seem effortless compared to the younger, streaming pairings. The film remains enjoyable to watch mainly because of their chemistry together.
Unfortunately, in a nod to When Harry Met Sally, the movie opens with the two main characters meeting again at an airport. However, this time it has been 25 years since their breakup and they are both exes. This reunion takes place at a regional airport during a snowstorm, forcing them to spend time together. This theme of fate is emphasized by some overly cute magical elements as they reminisce about their past relationship.
This movie is based on Steven Dietz’s 2008 play and may have been more suitable for the stage. Ryan’s insistence that only one person is featured in the far background makes it feel less intimate and more eerie. The airport is deserted and the two characters are isolated, leading the audience to expect a supernatural twist. However, instead of a cohesive plot, the story jumps between witty arguments and sentimental monologues in a predictable manner. When their exchanges become more intense and complicated, the audience becomes more engaged as the characters reveal a deep history and a familiar dynamic.
However, if your film is 105 minutes long and centers around a single extended conversation between two characters, even if the actors are talented, the dialogue must be compelling or unpredictable enough to hold our attention on its own. There are moments of brilliance, particularly when the characters express grumpy opinions about modern society, but as the story progresses, the novelty fades and we become as stagnant as they are. The repetitive back-and-forth between the characters dampens our interest in whether or not they will ultimately succeed.
Ryan’s comeback in the romantic comedy serves as a reminder of her exceptional abilities in this genre, but it also leaves us wanting more. Ultimately, the resolution to “What Happens Later” is not very substantial.
The film “What Happens Later” is currently playing in theaters in the US and will be released in the UK soon.