Review by Jennifer Mustoe, Front Row Reviewers
What Happens Later, starring David Duchovny and Meg Ryan, who also directs the movie, is a delight, full stop. What Happens Later is a fun, sweet rom/com, more rom than com, that my husband enjoyed more than we thought we would. He and I attend matinees on opening Thursday or Friday, and often these movies are what we call “Popcorn movies.” We were surprised and pleased that What Happens Later is definitely enjoyable and not just an excuse for some snacks and an icy soda.
What Happens Later is the story of two former lovers who end up stranded in an airport on Leap Day. How they end up completely alone seems unexplained, but we are able to look past this–because we want to. By the time this couple is on their own in a semi-darkened airport, we are invested in these two, who happen to each have the name W. Davis, her first name Willa and he is William (Bill.) They often call each other W. Davis and surprisingly it never gets old.
Much of the movie is discussion and it helps us to not only understand them, but also what happened that made them break up. And the reason, quite frankly, is remarkably touching and, for me, identifiable and made me tear up a bit. (My husband may have teared up a bit too but he always says his eyes water in every movie. Hmm.)
The W. Davises are stranded as their planes are grounded from a blizzard, and this is one of the only criticisms I have about the movie. I’ve been in blizzards (feeding my horses by the way so I’ve been outside in them far too often and they are miserable and ridiculously cold and horrible), I’ve boarded planes when it is snowing, and the “storm” in What Happens Later looks like feathery, Christmasy snow. So. You know.
There is a cute bit with the loud speaker in the airport and its slightly other wordly vibe gives some interesting insight into the Leap Day mystery.
Bill and Willa seem like they’d never been together in the first place. She was a free spirit and still is in her clunky boots and hippie-ish clothes. Bill is a stock broker, strapped in a suit, and clearly has left his musician/songwriter past behind. But as they begin to discuss their life back when, and open up and get honest, we, and they, begin to see how right they were for one another. And perhaps could be still. By the way, Bill is separated and soon to be divorced, so there’s no persnickety concerns about adultery per se, and we’re glad about this.
Of course, there is the obligatory ride on an airport shuttle that, let’s face it, we’ve all wished we could do if we could find a clear space. There is a magical scene where Willa and Bill dance to The Lightning Seeds‘ “Pure” seen from outside the large windows of the airport. The dance goes on for some time, and I was sorry to see it end. This is one of the romance parts of the movie, and it is all that is charming, and also may be reminiscent to some of us.
What Comes Later is rated R for one scene of pot smoking (they each take one toke, so it’s so minor, I’m not sure why this is a big deal.) There is no sex, no nudity. However, it seemed like there was a need to make this an R, so they tossed in the F word. It felt to me that there was this “insert the F word here, and here, and here.” It sounded trite as well and derivative almost as if the actors, especially Ryan, couldn’t their mouths around the word–it sounded weird and quite out of character. I wonder if this is a movie about characters in their 50s and the production company wanted to attract that demographic? It’s unfortunate, but maybe folks in the 20-40 years old range would be bored.
What I found most fascinating is the amount of tension that is built as What Happens Later progresses. As the characters talk, they divulge the most personal and hurtful things about the lives they led after they split, and it is so real. This is the source of much of the tension. The secrets they share are so personal and so heart-wrenching, we begin to truly love these two. And oh how much we want to see them rediscover the love they shared and walked away from 20-25 years before. And there is always this feeling of “what comes next?” Will these two be able to rekindle what they had so long ago? I had this feeling of hurry up, hurry up. But then I realized the warm fuzzies I felt as the movie progressed, I wanted to savor the story.
Ryan does a lovely job directing this piece, using angles and lighting that bring us close as Bill and Willa themselves get closer–an effective and evocative choice. Both she and Duchovny are authentic and carry What Happens Later with a tenderness that could have become awkward or tiresome. This is a show with just the two characters, and their ability to keep us interested is laudable.
Music is an important theme in What Happens Later. Many patrons will get a wonderful nostalgic jolt with the soundtrack, which gives the story a realistic, sweet reminder of just where the W. Davises began.
What Happens Later packs a lot of meaning in what could be considered a light rom-com and I’d suggest you give it a try. It will probably end up streaming on Netflix soon owing to the fact that it gets a 5.7 rating from IMDb and a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes (which I totally disagree with, I might add), so you could wait. But it lends itself to a dark theater where there are no distractions.
If you want to walk out of the theater holding your half-eaten container of popcorn, humming tunes you haven’t heard in a while, holding hands with your sweetheart, or wish this is your scenario, What Happens Later is for you.
What Happens Later is based on the play Shooting Star by Steven Dietz. The rom-com is written by Dietz, Ryan, and Kirk Lynn.
What Happens Later Trailer