WHAT HAPPENS LATER (2023)
Release Date: 11/03/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Comedy. Romance.
Studio: Bleecker Street.
"Willa and Bill are ex-lovers that will see each other for the first time in years when they both find themselves snowed in, in-transit, at an airport overnight."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
After Meg Ryan’s long hiatus from the big screen, she makes her long-awaited return alongside David Duchovny in What Happens Later. As the reigning queen of rom-coms, it’s fitting that her comeback is a fun twist on the genre. The story is simple and features just two characters plus one semi-mystical voiceover.
Willa (Meg Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny) have some things in common. One is their name, W. Davis. The other is their layover stop at an airport in an unnamed and unidentifiable city. And the final shared item is a past relationship from their twenties. When they recognize each other at the airport there’s the typical awkward, “How have you been?” conversation. Right away their differences are noticeable. Bill is anxious, high strung, and prone to thinking about the risks of every situation. Willa is a bit flighty, leans towards optimism, and carries around a rainstick.
After their initial meeting, they keep bumping into each other and finally somewhat begrudgingly commit to just hanging out when both of their flights are delayed by a snow storm. The entire one hour and forty-five minute runtime takes place in the nondescript airport. It is admittedly difficult to hold an audience's attention for that long without adding any location changes or additional characters. For the most part Ryan and Duchovny do a fantastic job with this hurdle. Their chemistry is perfect, deftly playing up the clumsiness of talking to an ex at the beginning. And then ever so slowly having the awkwardness melt away as they reconnect with someone they once loved.
Ryan, who directed and co-wrote the movie, can be commended on making a compelling rom-com that at times feels like a relationship autopsy. Why didn’t these two work out? What happened to make them walk away from each other? The conversations between both Davis’ run the gamut of pleasantries to deeper, heated discussions about what went wrong in their relationship and the grievances they each have with the other. Despite the difficulties the pair has obviously shared, there’s some tiny shred of hope that this reconnection can rekindle their obvious love for each other. That tension is just enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. That being said, this is not a sexy take on the genre. It certainly isn’t bursting with lustful tension. It’s built for a different generation and has a nuance and complexity that one can only achieve after having experienced many different types of relationships that ended in one way or another.
The movie does get bogged down a bit by the longer runtime and the stagnant nature of the location and story. About twenty minutes could have been shaved off and the message would have been more impactful (and easier to sit through). At times the single location and dialogue-heavy scenes make the movie feel more like a play, which could understandably be off-putting for some. To help add some humor and context to scenes that would have otherwise been indistinguishable from its predecessor, the movie utilizes an omniscient voiceover via the airport’s public address system. But even that gets stale after a while.
Despite these issues, this is still a fun watch. And we’re giving kudos to Ryan for building something different in a genre hyper-focused on youth and happily ever-afters. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see Ryan’s limping gait and hear her lilting voice back on screen. And Duchovny proves a worthy sparring partner for the return of rom-com’s favorite leading lady.