What Happens Later: mawkish airport-set romcom struggles to get off the ground

Two exes exhume old secrets and regrets while stranded overnight in an airport in a chat-heavy romcom from Meg Ryan that lacks comic snap.

Meg Ryan and David Duchovny as Willa and Bill in What Happens Later (2023)

The romcom has been good to Meg Ryan. So, it’s entirely understandable that even 35 years after When Harry Met Sally (1989) shot her to stardom, she’d choose a chat-packed romance as her second directorial outing, after the earnest Ithaca (2016). But Ryan (the film’s co-writer and star as well as its director) struggles to get this mawkish airport-set affair off the ground as she and David Duchovny clash and cosy-up – predictably – as two long-separated ex-lovers unexpectedly grounded together in a snowstorm.  

Adapted from Steven Dietz’s wistful 2008 stage play Shooting Star and played as a two-hander in a mysteriously empty and purgatorial small-town airport, this talky, somewhat static film can’t shake off its theatrical roots. Ryan’s Willa, a dippy new age wellness therapist toting a rainstick for ‘cleansing rituals’, is forced into prickly banter with Duchovny’s weary businessman Bill when a forced stopover throws them together for the first time in 25 years.  

During this weather-enforced overnight stay in the deserted airport lounge, the film’s sentimental script moves the pair from awkward, sniping small-talk to unpacking their long-ago breakup. Less ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, more ‘Prolix in Podunk’. The narrative piles up rusty regrets and exhumes old secrets for them to argue over, all signalled with the subtlety of an airport tannoy. In a piece of misguided magical realism, the actual airport tannoy and the flight display boards function here as a Greek chorus, addressing mystical messages like ‘Don’t lose heart’ to Bill and Willa by name (they are both ‘Passenger W Davis’ for plot twist reasons that feel nakedly contrived). 

Perhaps most disappointing is the film’s lack of comic snap. Barely a romcom, its nostalgic dad-jokes are squarely aimed at older viewers, who apparently hate 90s-themed muzak and think “rock ‘n’ roll was about rhythm not algorithms”. Unlike It’s Complicated (2009) or Ticket to Paradise (2022) the script can’t find either barbed wit or slapstick fun in an ex-couple thrown together. Instead, they’re stuck in a cycle of bickering chat in steel-trimmed airport chairs and bars, where Ryan’s camera underlines the close-then-faraway impossibility of their bond as they dance drunkenly on a twinkly, deserted sky bridge, or glide apart on travelators while carrying their literal and metaphorical baggage. 

Duchovny and Ryan, both skilful performers, manage to rustle up some chemistry between woo-woo-spouting Willa and the pragmatic Bill. They bring a certain ease and experience to both the film’s heart-searching sequences, and its playful moments. But no amount of actorly charm and deadpan delivery can get this clunker airborne. 

 ► What Happens Later is in UK cinemas now.