The modern Romantic Comedy; a wasteland of ineptitude and unfunny coincidences featuring the same actors giving the same performances time and time again. While these types of movies were not exactly Shakespeare, since the late 90s, the “Rom Com” has devolved to offensively saccharine garbage. This is a genre where studios recycle the same premise; two people who don’t know one another/haven’t seen one another in years/hate each other, fall in love after being stuck in some sort of unavoidable situation. The same actors, the same plots, the same garbage, and audiences always fall for them. “What Happens Later” is Meg Ryan’s “big” return to the genre that made her.
Ryan is in the director’s chair this time and one could assume the actress could bring the spark she showed in films such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle”. One would be wrong. “What Happens Later” is a dreadfully boring two character piece about ex-lovers reconnecting during a winter blizzard holdover in an airport. What follows is a night spent with two self-involved whiners in their early Sixties, each so emotionally inept it is amazing they have been able to survive in the real world.
Willa (Meg Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny) are the victims of flight delays. The two are former lovers who haven’t seen one another in twenty-five years. Seemingly alone in an airport with apparently zero actual employees, the two spend their time revisiting what went wrong in their relationship. Tears and laughter collide with misconceptions and hard truths, as Willa and Bill grasp the reality of their lives in the most hackneyed manner possible.
Based on Steven Dietz’s play “Shooting Star”, it took Dietz and two other writers (Kirk Lynn and Ryan) to craft this preposterous drivel. The screenplay goes from one ridiculous scene to another, giving Ryan and Duchovny some of the most embarrassing moments of their careers. When the two characters delve into their past relationship, the dramatic platitudes are eye-rolling. As they stumble through small talk, the dialogue is grating. Once the romance begins to bloom again, the film reaches new heights of incompetence. The picture never finds a balance of comedy, romance, or drama. For most of the run time, the whole exercise flails around looking for a depth that is far out of its reach.
Meg Ryan and David Duchovny are certainly likable actors with natural charm and undeniable screen presence. Unfortunately, the two are stuck playing a couple of sad sacks who are the polar opposite of endearing. As the two suffer through their insipid dialogue, one almost feels sorry for them until the realization that, as director, Meg Ryan is to blame. Ryan tries hard to keep the film realistic but lite, giving the film a serious visual tone. The airport is fairly dark and its design is cold in an almost art deco fashion, yet does nothing to enhance the dramatic atmosphere. It is near impossible to imagine Meg Ryan behind the camera, taking the screenplay seriously, imagining she is crafting something unique. Every second of this film is embarrassingly phony in ways that make Jennifer Lopez’s Rom Coms feel like David Mamet.
As Willa and Bill (both share a coincidental last name so their initials are the same; ‘W. Davis’ . Isn’t that precious?) traverse the empty airport and rediscover themselves, one ridiculous moment after another comes crashing down until the viewer’s suffering becomes unbearable.
By the time the two dance around to “Pure” by The Lightning Seeds (a moment of shameful desperation), it could be forgiven if tomatoes were thrown at the screen. The film’s most unforgivable sin is how the announcer of the airport’s loudspeaker (voiced by Hal Liggett) addresses both characters personally. This device is preposterously stupid.
Uninspired and incompetent, “What Happens Later” is an affront to moviegoers looking for something romantic and fun.
Ryan (understandably) dedicates the film to the late Nora Ephron. The irony lies in the fact that Ephron wouldn’t have touched this script for all the money in the world.
What Happens Later
Written by Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn, & Meg Ryan (Based on the play “Shooting Star” by Steven Dietz)
Directed by Meg Ryan
Starring Meg Ryan, David Duchovny
R, 105 Minutes, Prowess Pictures/Ten Acre Films/Rockhill Studios