Ardent moviegoers fell in love with Meg Ryan while she was starring in our favorite romantic comedies—“You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “When Harry Met Sally”—all films scripted by the peerless Nora Ephron. But it has been eight years since these two talents brought us those favorites. Ephron has passed away, but Ryan decided to pen, along with help from screenwriters Steven Dietz and Kirk Lynn, a twenty-five-years-later rom-com.
Basing their script on Dietz’s play, “Shooting Star,” the three writers stayed with the one-location setting. Willa (Meg Ryan), flying to Boston, and Bill (David Duchovny), on his way to Austin, find themselves grounded in an airport due to an unexpectedly severe snowstorm. Fate, kismet, or coincidence conspires to bring together two travelers who have not seen each other since they were lovers attending college twenty-five years earlier. Dressed in Bohemian-chic attire and carrying a rain stick, Willa projects a non-conformist image that contrasts with Bill’s business suit, loosened tie, and open-collar shirt.
Also coincidental is the fact that the airport’s loudspeaker calls the name W. Davis to report to the desk. Although they never married, both have the same last name and first initial. Without hesitation, they recognize each other and spend some time catching up on their lives since they had parted. Willa has not married and now works as a massage therapist and a “healer.” Bill works for a company that requires him to travel. Although married, he and his wife are now separated, but he stays in close contact with his fifteen-year-old daughter, whose dream is to be a professional dancer. Consistent with their personalities, Willa finds this career choice laudable and rewarding, while Bill finds it impractical and unrealistic.
As the storm worsens and flights are further delayed, Willa and Bill realize the differences that had caused them to separate are still present, yet these differences are part of the attraction that continues to tantalize them. Bill is even willing to carry her rain stick for her as they walk around the airport for exercise. There is some bickering and banter to their conversation, but writer/director Ryan confessed in a recent interview that she “rhythm and banter are part of the language of romance.”
The factors that hold viewers’ interest in this film begin with the polished performances of both actors. Ryan still has the magnetic charm and screen charisma that she displayed in her earlier films. Duchovny, whose work has been seen on television more frequently than in film, provides a perfect balance to Ryan’s more zany personality, making their lively conversations both believable and entertaining. But, as the title implies, no resolutions are provided in this movie.
Some audiences will tire of an entire film featuring only two characters conversing. The only other voice we hear is that of Hal Liggett, whom we never see because his is the voice heard on the airport’s loudspeaker. A corollary to this problem is that a willing suspension of disbelief is needed. Set in an airport where many flights get delayed or canceled, “What Happens Later” has no other actors milling around the airport complaining about their delayed flights and mixed connections. It is strictly a two-person film.