With ‘What Happens Later,’ Meg Ryan, the empress of romantic comedies, made a comeback to the silver screen after an 8-year hiatus. Apart from starring in the film, she also serves as the director of the story involving two ex-lovers — Willa and Bill — who run into each other after 25 years at an airport. They make small talk and are about to go their separate ways, when a snowstorm hits and indefinitely delays their flights. Now with nothing to do and nowhere to go, they are forced to slow down and introspect, using their conversations to reflect on their lives and why they had to break up.
Once they begin to realize the assumptions they made about one another at the time of their separation we untrue, their surroundings become increasingly magical. The voice of the airport, gleaming lights, and the relentless storm seem to coax them closer. Meg Ryan plays Willa as David Duchovny seamlessly settles into the role of Bill. With the plot playing out a scenario, most people would imagine with their exes, it makes you wonder what led to the film’s materialization.
What Happens Later Is Adapted From a Play
‘What Happens Later’ is an adaptation of ‘Shooting Star,’ a play written by celebrated playwright and theatre director Steven Dietz. The fictional script is the collaborative creative effort of Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn and Meg Ryan. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Meg came across the 2008 play. Upon reading his draft for a screenplay, she was smitten by the idea and set about developing it into a film adaptation. She brought on board seasoned actor David Duchovny and over the course of about 10 Zoom calls developed the characters and script to begin production.
The actress-turned-director opted for a style of magical realism to keep the story grounded initially while building up the magical elements as Will and Bill rekindle their long-lost romance. It is an aspect audiences may find relatable to their own romances. A feeling of predestination, a kind of enchantment that takes root once you get closer as if everything around you is nudging you toward that person. The airport’s announcer often joins their conversation as a disembodied voice, with an agenda of keeping them in the present moment, with each other. The floors begin to glow as if they are walking on water.
When the airport shuts down at night, it is reminiscent of a cozily lit home with warm somber lights. All the signs and numbers disappear, replaced with typefaces like “time will tell”, “only connect” and “everything is pending.” The setting itself lends to the realistic feel the film tries to create surrounding the romance. The shooting took place at a functioning airport in North-West Arkansas, and for most sequences, the people in the background are regular commuters hurrying to their flights. Although most of the movie takes place at night, giving the cast and crew the place to themselves, they also have a considerable number of scenes during the day.
In an interview with Today, the actors confessed that it was tough to shoot in such an organic setting because passersby would often try to talk to them. The most critical element of the film, which sells the romance and makes it come alive, is the back and forth between the leads. The setting and the subliminal messaging are just icing on a cake made of banter. And that is something both actors excel at delivering. Ryan notes how Duchovny is incredibly unique in his positively unpredictable delivery and can infuse emotions into his lines, prompting her to respond in kind. She believes the key to making a couple seem like they belong together is their rhythm.
Their intellectual rhythm is matched with the writing, while their rhythm of banter brings out the best in both characters. ‘What Happens Later’ seems like a passion project as Ryan has mentioned she wants to make films that she’d like to watch with her daughter. Given that this was her second directorial stint, Duchovny took a chance with her based on his interest in the story. While the setting, characters, their interaction, and romance can feel very familiar and realistic to the audience, the film is based on a fictional play by Steven Dietz, which has been brought to the mainstream with ‘What Happens Later.’
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