When Meg Ryan released a new movie, her return to rom-coms, you know I had to see it. In What Happens Later, Willa (Meg Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny) run into each other on Leap Day when stranded at a small airport due to a massive storm. The pair have not crossed paths since they broke up twenty-five years earlier and, as their chances of getting out of the airport that day grow slimmer, they rehash why they broke up and the choices they made in the aftermath.
With Meg Ryan in the director’s seat, this film has been marketed as a romantic comedy, but it felt more like post-midlife crisis Gen X Absurdist Theater. The production tries to lean into whimsy, with the airport taking on more stylized lighting and interior design as it mysteriously empties of stranded travelers. Oh, and Willa and Bill are both called W. Davis. They are ex-lovers with the same name. It is so twee, but the story is not sweet enough for the whimsy to work. Then, there is the Airport Voice (Hal Liggett) antagonizing the W. Davises as their travel situation deteriorates. The bit conveys how being stuck in an airport can feel, but the joke mostly comes off as too on the nose, or not funny enough.
The writing has points of wit and heart, but often, the dialogue is not quite dialed in. Meg Ryan and David Duchovny have great chemistry, but many lines lack a spark. My favorite part of the film features the two of them having an impromptu dance party, looking like they were genuinely having fun together. That scene highlights how contrived elements of the writing are.
The thing is, I saw this movie in the theater and it turned into a meditation on the value of sitting through a not-so-great movie. If this movie were streaming, I am sure I would have picked up a project or second screened. But in the theater, I was stuck. I thought about the story and the flaws of the movie and I wondered what movie like this one my generation will produce in 15 years. I just existed for a couple hours and so I enjoyed the experience, even if the movie was just so-so. The screenplay gives the audience plenty of emotional content to ponder, it just does not all come together well.
It’s like Meg Ryan’s outfit. She wears a flowing white shift dress befitting a woman hauling around a rainstick, but then these big, clunky black boots that appear hard for her to walk in. The contrast conveys Willa’s conflicted persona but also works as a metaphor for the film’s flaws. So much works and flows together and then other elements clunk along, somewhat out of place. The film is dedicated to the great Nora Ephron, and I can imagine that if she had punched up the script, it could have been a much stronger reflection on lost love, disappointment, and the hope that it is never too late to do better.
What Happens Later was written by Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn, and Meg Ryan, who directed. It runs 1 hour 43 minutes and is rated R.
Streaming on Hulu, Quiz Lady follows estranged sisters Anne (Awkwafina) and Jenny (Sandra Oh) as they struggle to make Anne a trivia show winner to pay off their mother’s considerable gambling debts. Will Ferrell also stars as the quiz show host, and Jason Schwartzman plays Ron Heacock, the smug reigning champion.
The plot of Quiz Lady follows fairly predictable beats, although it does deliver some surprises. The movie really rests on the chemistry between Awkwafina and Sandra Oh. They make a fun comedic duo while selling their very different characters. As timid Anne, Awkwafina’s body language clearly establishes how withdrawn and invisible she feels. It was weird to watch Sandra Oh, who normally portrays such smart characters, playing a wild sibling, but she made me laugh throughout.
Working together, they share scenes beautifully, creating a rich emotional history between this odd couple.
Quiz Lady drags a bit in the middle, but once Anne arrives at the quiz show, the pace picks back up, building toward a sweet, satisfying ending with a cameo by the late Paul Reubens. On the surface, the movie is a fairly standard feel-good comedy, but the quality of the performances and the attention to detail bring the production up a notch. The minor characters each have quirky details that create opportunities for little gags. Props, including a wall of bow ties, lend pops of color and texture to otherwise stark settings—conference rooms and Anne’s spartan apartment. Finally, the end text telling the audience what happens next should not be missed. This cute little movie delighted me greatly, and not just because I am excellent at trivia.
Quiz Lady was written by Jen D’Angelo and directed by Jessica Yu. It runs 99 minutes and is rated R.
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