What Happens Later

A sixty-something businessman takes note of a disoriented looking blonde in a small regional airport, but seems to avoid her.  When she spots him, though, Willa (Meg Ryan) immediately greets ‘W. Davis,’ Bill (David Duchovny) the lover she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years who shares her first initial and surname.  A storm causes flight delays and the two spend the time rediscovering each other and the misconceptions which ended their relationship in “What Happens Later.”

Laura's Review: D

Not having seen Steven Dietz’s play ‘Shooting Star,’ it is difficult to determine what cowriter (with Dietz and Kirk Lynn)/director Meg Ryan (“Ithaca”) saw in his airport romance, but what she’s done with it is something best left on the tarmac.  This is a romantic comedy full of non-stop talk between two people in a magical airport where their comments are personally addressed by the loudspeaker announcer (voice of Hal Liggett), where they drink in a bar and eat in a café that feature no other people including waitstaff and where Willa’s bag mysteriously disappears and reappears.

Initially presented as a fuddy duddy businessman and a ditzy new-ager who just happen to be traveling to the city the other is coming from (Boston and Austin, because they rhyme), the couple’s talk quickly turns to the reason they broke up, something Bill attributes first to her personality, then to her desire for an open relationship, something he found ‘unsustainable,’ but apparently didn’t object to at the time.  Each has an issue with a child and there was a miscarriage in their own past and neither has been truthful with the other.

You can see where all this is headed, but in the interim we’re exposed to quirky behavior like Willa’s cleansing rain stick and her opening Bill’s briefcase so his papers will fly all over the airport.  She writes phone numbers inside her combat boots and suggest they trade wallets to ‘catch up with each other,’ then proceeds to snatch away anything of interest.  He objects to the music constantly being blared through the airport’s speakers, as you probably will too, but it does provide a backdrop for a dance number and driving around the airport in a golf cart.           

All this magic is attributed to the fact that it is Leap Day, but the obvious attraction must be denied for that one last scene of the couple frantically trying to communicate through their airplane windows, close enough that these planes’ wings must only be three feet long.  The last shot is strictly for those who like their romances syrupy, sickly sweet.

Duchovny manages to create an actual human being in Bill, but Meg Ryan’s character is too contradictory in nature and the costars’ constant, non-stop chatter is not only unnatural, but annoying.  The production is uninspired.  “What Happens Later” may have its romantic heart in the right place, but its execution proves fatal.

Robin's Review: D

Stranded during a snow storm at a small airport, Bill (David Duchovny) and Willa (Meg Ryan), once lovers decades before, unexpectedly meet again. They politely ask about each others’ lives but, as the night draws and the airport shuts down, they find that their feelings from before are rekindled in “What Happens Later.”

Meg Ryan has been incommunicado, film-wise, for eight years. I would like to say her return to the fold as director, co-writer, star and producer is a whimsical success. Unfortunately, “What Happens Later” is neither whimsical or anything resembling a success, making Ryan’s return to the big screen far from a heralded return.

A snowstorm has caused flights at a small, regional airport to be cancelled indefinitely. Two of those stuck see each other from a distance and, immediately, recognition strikes. They start to have a conversation and it is obvious, to us, they have a past. What transpires, for the next nearly two hours, is these two lost souls talking…and talking and talking.

As most people do, I remember Meg Ryan as the perky love interest is such rom-com classics as “When Harry met Salt” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” I think the actor-writer-director-producer thought that she could make lightning strike again, making a middle-age version of her earlier comedies. It has, but not in a way that I think Ryan expected.

I would like to say, by way of faint praise, that the intent to return to past successes is a worthy effort. “What Happens Later” has little resemblance to the earlier, far-better works of Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron. One of the problems, among many, is that the script is an indulgence from beginning to painful end.

Two people, and only two people, talking of their pasts is not exactly a gripping concept and it grows tired very early on – about the time Ryan makes her appearance in a stylish dress and sweater – and combat boots. It is kind of a melding of “Annie Hall” and “The Expendables” but not in a good way.

The two actors go through the motion of rekindling their past, confused romance when young. I came out of this thinking that there is no chemistry or charm between these two “lovers” as their stories of the misunderstandings of youth is supposed to be the catalyst that brings them together again. All it did was make me wonder why they would be together in the first place.

Conceptually, the idea of two people being stranded on a stormy night in a tiny airport that is about to shut down might have merit. Here, though, the behavior of the two “adults” does not make much sense as they banter, complain, criticize and emote about their past and present lives. I should care about the characters but I do not – at all.

While Ryan gives her character an almost waif-like demeanor, it does not work for an actress of 50 like it did for one of 25. David Duchovny looks like he would rather be in another movie and his performance feels phoned in. Maybe a colorful supporting character or two (or three) would have tempered things but we will never find out.

Bleecker Street opens "What Happens Later" in theaters on 11/3/23.