LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Meg Ryan returns to acting and her trademark romantic comedy genre in What Happens Later, in theaters Friday. While recapturing the vibe of her '90s oeuvre, the film advances the formula for people who have grown up since then.
What Happens Later follows Willa (Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny), who are stuck at an airport during a snowstorm. They haven't seen each other since they broke up 25 years earlier, so they catch up.
Ryan also directed What Happens Later and co-wrote it with Steven Dietz and Kirk Lynn, based on Dietz's play Shooting Star. The film is well-directed for taking place in a single location.
Ryan moves Willa and Bill between gates, lounges and bars. The exterior of planes and runways looks like unconvincing computer effects, but they're not really important when the film is about Willa and Bill inside.
Willa and Bill rehash some of their old arguments, but they also talk about adult relationships. Bill got married and has a daughter, and Willa is still single, which conflicts with both of their expectations of each other.
They aren't telling each other the entire story at first. Only as the layover drags on do more details come to light.
Although modern concepts like open relationships give way to more traditional monogamous norms, it's progress that such topics are even considered in a mainstream romantic comedy.
The viewer is catching two characters reminiscing and catching up about their current family situations and careers, but it's easy to follow along.
Ryan updates her adorable '90s persona with airport games, goofing off, drinking and smoking. Because it's an R-rated film, Willa swears and Ryan drops F-bombs endearingly.
However, Willa has an understanding of family, the children she doesn't have and a life lived unlike Ryan's past rom-com ingénue roles that focused on the beginning of relationships.
Bill also falls into the rom-com trope of the buttoned-down straight man who meets a carefree spirit. It's interesting for the film to explore that character who did not end up changing his life for the woman he loves.
There is a hint of magic at the airport with a PA speaker that seems to address Willa and Bill directly. It's just enough to suggest maybe cupid really exists, but never distracts from the real-world relationship story.
Ryan dedicates the movie to Nora Ephron, which is apt. The late writer of When Harry Met Sally... and writer/director of Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail would have been proud.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.