Meg Ryan returns to rom-coms to show that ‘old people’ are ‘still romantic and sexy’

Meg Ryan returns to rom-coms to show that ‘old people’ are ‘still romantic and sexy’

Jonah Valdez | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Meg Ryan is back with her first romantic comedy in nearly 15 years.

The “Sleepless in Seattle” actor is both in front of and behind the camera as the director, star and co-writer of upcoming film “What Happens Later,” which dropped its trailer Wednesday. Ryan stars opposite David Duchovny (“The X-Files,” “Californication”) and wants people to know that for people her age, the sexual tension is very much alive and well.

“Sometimes there’s a question of: Will they be together? Will they not be together?” the 61-year-old star said in an interview done before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike, according to Entertainment Weekly. “For that reason, [‘What Happens Later’] sort of evolves the rom-com genre just a little bit. It’s also about old people, and it’s still romantic and sexy.”

The trailer kicks off with an awkward glance and wave between ex-partners Willa, played by Ryan, and Bill, played by Duchovny, 63, who bump into each other at the airport. After exchanging pleasantries during their first meeting in 20 years (“25, maybe,” he says), the pair starts to relate to the realities of aging.

“I’ve been 49 forever and ever and ever,” Willa says.

“Wow, lucky you,” Bill responds, “I feel like I’ve been in my 50s since my 20s.”

Soon after, a “storm of the century” strands both travelers inside the airport, where they begin to hash out why their relationship didn’t work.

Willa wanted children. Bill apparently left because he “wanted different things.” Willa is hurt that Bill went out and did the opposite, starting a family with another woman. “Is that your daughter?” Willa asks, as Bill stares at his phone and admits, “I know how badly you wanted that.” But Bill later claims they broke up because of Willa’s behavior, to which she retorts, “So basically, my personality.”

“What Happens Later” is based on the play “Shooting Star” by Steven Dietz, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ryan and Kirk Lynn. And the quick, witty exchanges feel straight off the theater stage and borrow from the dialogue-heavy rom-coms of the past.

“It has a relationship to movies from the ’40s, like ‘Bringing Up Baby,’ in terms of the banter and the rhythm of things and a lot of that era of filmmaking,” Ryan said in the interview obtained by Entertainment Weekly, nodding to her inspiration and former collaborator, Nora Ephron, the accomplished playwright and filmmaker who directed and co-wrote Ryan’s classic 1993 rom-com “Sleepless In Seattle.”

“Ephron used to say about rom-coms that they were really a secretly incredible delivery system to comment on the times, and we do that in this movie,” Ryan said.

While the fate of their characters’ romance remains unclear, the trailer is packed with scenes of longing and connection set to the nostalgic 1989 new-wave ballad “Pure” by rock band the Lightning Seeds, as the pair dance together, laugh drunkenly at a bar and joy-ride down the empty terminal corridors on a cart.

“What Happens Later” is Ryan’s second feature film as director, following her 2015 debut with the World War II drama “Ithaca,” in which she also starred. She hasn’t been seen on the big screen since.

The film is also her first romantic comedy since “Serious Moonlight” in 2009. Ryan had a prolific run of starring in commercially successful rom-coms and romantic dramas, starting in 1989 with “When Harry Met Sally,” continuing through the ’90s with films such as “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “You’ve Got Mail” and into the early 2000s with “Kate & Leopold.” A Times article from 2016 estimated that, adjusted for inflation, Ryan’s 30 films have made $2.3 billion.

Over the past decade, however, she had largely stepped away from acting and the public light, appearing sparingly at public events. Although “What Happens Later” is a clear nod to the ’90s rom-com era that she helped define, Ryan has been open about her growth since then.

“I had the big ride,” she told the L.A. Times in a 2016 interview on the eve of her directorial debut. “I went to the moon. I had all that. I don’t need that anymore. So I have a real freedom, a real free operating principle. It’s about what’s interesting. What is a story I want to share? What environment do I want to be in? Who do I want to be around?”

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