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Film Review: What Happens Later

FILM REVIEW
WHAT HAPPENS LATER
Rated R
105 Minutes
Released November 3rd

This movie surprised me. I expected a light, puffy relationship romp but this was a two-character psychological study of human connection that went to much darker places – and then lighter arcs as well. The story places the past staring the present in the face and the existential questions that arise from that collision: Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? What if? These questions are never stated but form an undercurrent of the banter between the two characters who were once close but haven’t seen or heard from each other for years.

This is Meg Ryan’s second film as a director, the first being Ithaca in 2016. It’s based on the play Shooting Star by Steven Dietz and has been adapted for film by Ryan and playwright Kirk Lynn. Ryan also stars, as her usual charming and unabashedly unencumbered spirit. David Duchovny is the only other speaking character in the film, except for an eerily and sometimes comically out of sync, omniscient Airport Loudspeaker.  Duchovny has great chemistry with Ryan despite playing against type as an uptight and pressured businessman, an over-full glass of anxiety. The shoot was completed in 21 days, mostly night shoots, at a budget of about $3 million, in Northwest Arkansas National Airport and Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville AR, with only one set of costumes needed for the two protagonists.

The style that Ryan establishes has some brilliant qualities and some shortcomings. Perhaps the mundane search for a wall plug that both characters are consumed with when they meet in this airport is an allegory for their lives. She is looking for an outlet to plug in her nearly dead cell phone, and he tries awkwardly and with apprehension, to help her. It’s the “Connection” they are searching for, and this symbolism could have been emphasized even more in the dialogue and the visuals. 

The rhythmic repartee of these two characters has a deeply melancholic and tragic nuance between the lines, that neither wants to face full on, reflecting the loss of dreams and freedom, now weighed down by responsibilities that come with age. It becomes more and more apparent how much impact each had on the other’s life even though they drifted apart after college. This could have inspired an even more highly imaginative dance into the histories of these two who collide. The overall style is not succinctly mapped out, or realistic until it’s not, with dreamlike sequences that suddenly break the pattern. Long shots of the airport are confusing, as runways appear wet but not snowed in. The disappearance of groups of other passengers milling about the airport is abrupt. Criticism of this movie has been mostly directed toward Ryan. I believe it’s driven partly by the fact that she became an icon, and then seemingly dropped out of the business for a while. Fans often feel they own a celebrity as the character they once fell in love with. 

This is a movie that will make you think, perhaps reminisce, or wonder what your future holds. It does not have an existential moment of recognition, but it’s messy and leaves ends dangling, just like life. Ryan feels that an airport signifies a place where, no matter who you are, as a passenger you do not have control. It’s a “transitional space,” she says. She quotes Tom Petty as something of a muse for the story with his line “I woke up in between a memory and a dream.” As Ryan puts it, “As a writer, you learn everything is for you. …you’re a conduit…” About the characters she says, “They broke each other’s heart and hopefully what the movie is going toward…this idea that I’m glad it was you who broke my heart.” I look forward to seeing more work from Meg Ryan.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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