Facing your biggest heartbreak in an airport is a very relatable fantasy. The randomness of the encounter, the forced intimacy, and the ticking clock of a departing plane create an environment ripe for the potential for romantic reconciliation or, more likely, cathartic closure. Star Meg Ryan brings this particular fantasy to (magical) reality in her second film, “What Happens Later,” a charming reckoning with love lost, at least for one night, and then found.
A romantic comedy queen herself, Ryan, star of “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” makes her screenwriting debut on this film and shares credit with Steven Dietz and Kirk Lynn. Adaptation of Dietz’s play “Shooting Star”.
Willa (Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny) are college exes with the same name who share a long-lost romantic past: W. Davis. They hadn’t seen each other for 25 years; from Austin, Texas, to Boston and vice versa, while trying to cross the country while getting stuck in the same airport during a snowstorm. A lot has happened in the years since, and Willa and Bill, never prone to small talk, are heading towards the Big Talk during the night they’re stuck alone in the airport.
He’s a woo-woo wellness practitioner, she’s a buttoned-up businessman, an odd couple even if they were both involved in the ’90s alternative rock scene. Still, to make a long story short, the clever jokes flow easily between the two, moving from slightly stale generational riffs to opening old wounds. Such dialogue is reminiscent of the romantic comedies in which Ryan starred, many of which were written and directed by the late Nora Ephron. A “For Nora” dedication emerges at the end, with Ryan paying tribute to his collaborator and muse.
“What Happens Later” really feels like a throwback to romantic comedies of the past; If only because it operates on this simple yet fantastical concept and is a full tank of crackling, menacingly high-octane movie star chemistry between Ryan and Duchovny. burn at any time.
There’s a scene where Willa and Bill try to say goodbye for the first time, but it’s a “bad goodbye” as they call this kind of emotional, hectic, unfinished interaction, and it involves some extremely charming hand acting. As they both move awkwardly, Bill kisses Willa’s hand and Willa walks away. He pulls her towards him, she frees herself and waves at him gently, no hug in sight. This interaction speaks volumes: the desire to relax and connect, the woman’s need to protect herself.
It’s a fascinating moment of missed connection, expressed purely physically and with the kind of natural instincts that Ryan and Duchovny have in spades. The viewer witnesses their emotional journey through their bodies and faces – a draped hand here, a wild, uninhibited dance party there – capturing the electricity between them not through words but through image and impression.
Working with cinematographer Bartosz Nalazek, Ryan brings a subtle sense of style to this nondescript setting by limiting the color palette to blacks, whites, grays, and honey yellows (though the space never looks as dull as a real airport). He stages the action in a way that activates the space, uses beautiful compositions and lighting; Snow falling through the window gives the impression that this couple has found themselves isolated inside a surreal but beautiful snow globe.
There really is a chill of magic in the air at this snow-covered airport, and it’s not just a rain stick that Willa is toting around. There is also a sentient announcing voice (Hal Liggett) who apparently reads their minds and responds to them, guiding them around the area, cutting the lights and forcing them to gather together. The airport also offers plenty of opportunities for apt metaphors: “connecting” or “getting the power back” thanks to a phone charger.
So yes, there are a few parts of the script that are a little over the top (we can officially remove all jokes about pronouns) and there are some hidden revelations that perhaps feel a little forced, but “What Happens Then” is very heartfelt and sincere. It’s so beautifully executed that it stirs something inside you; a hope, not necessarily for an airport rendezvous, but for a moment of healing, the kind everyone desires and everyone deserves.
‘THEN, WHAT WILL HAPPEN’
3 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for language, some sexual references, and brief drug use)
Running time: 1:43
How to watch: In theaters Friday