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

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

The “Sleepless in Seattle” star is also the director, star, and co-writer of the upcoming film “What Happens Later,” which released its trailer on Wednesday. Ryan, who co-stars with David Duchovny (“The X-Files,” “Californication”), wants people to know that sexual tension is very much alive and well for people her age.

“Sometimes you wonder if they’ll be together. Will they be separated?” According to Entertainment Weekly, the 61-year-old star stated this in an interview conducted prior to the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike. “As a result, [‘What Happens Later’] evolves the rom-com genre a little bit.” It’s also about the elderly, but it’s still romantic and sexy.”

The trailer begins with an awkward glance and wave between ex-partners Willa (Ryan) and Bill (Duchovny, 63), who run into each other at the airport. After exchanging pleasantries on their first meeting in 20 years (“25, maybe,” he says), the couple begins to discuss the realities of aging.

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

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

Soon after, a “storm of the century” traps both travelers inside the airport, forcing them to discuss why their relationship didn’t work.

Willa desired children. Bill is said to have left because he “wanted different things.” Willa is upset that Bill went out and started a family with another woman. “Is that your daughter?” Willa inquires as Bill stares at his phone and confesses, “I know how badly you wanted that.” However, Bill later claims that they split up due to Willa’s behavior, to which she responds, “So basically, my personality.”

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

“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 an interview with Entertainment Weekly, referring 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 for commenting on the times, and we do that in this movie,” Ryan explained.

While the fate of their characters’ romance is unknown, the trailer is filled with longing and connection scenes 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 a director, following her debut in 2015 with the World War II drama “Ithaca,” in which she also starred. She has not appeared on the big screen since.

Her first romantic comedy since 2009’s “Serious Moonlight” is also in the works. Ryan had a prolific career in commercially successful rom-coms and romantic dramas, beginning in 1989 with “When Harry Met Sally,” continuing through the 1990s with films like “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “You’ve Got Mail,” and ending in the early 2000s with “Kate & Leopold.” According to a 2016 Times article, Ryan’s 30 films have grossed $2.3 billion after inflation.

She had, however, largely withdrawn from acting and public life over the previous decade, appearing only sparingly at public events. Although “What Happens Later” is a clear nod to the rom-com era she helped define in the 1990s, Ryan has been open about her development since then.

“I had the big ride,” she told the Los Angeles Times on the eve of her directorial debut in 2016. “I traveled to the moon.” I had everything. That is no longer necessary for me. So I have genuine freedom, a genuine free operating principle. It’s all about what’s intriguing. What is the story I want to tell? What kind of environment am I looking for? “Who do I want to be with?”

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