Meg Ryan’s rom-com, filmed at XNA, now in theaters

"What Happens Later" was shot at Northwest Arkansas National Airport in October 2022.
Meg Ran and David Duchovny in “What Happens Next.” (Bleecker Street)

After eight years away from the big screen, Meg Ryan returns as the director, star and co-writer along with Kirk Lynn and Steven Dietz of the new rom-com “What Happens Later.”

The movie, shot on location at Northwest Arkansas National Airport in Highfill and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is a slight but still enjoyable film of love lost and remembered between two 50-something travelers stuck overnight by a snowstorm in an unnamed regional airport. David Duchovny co-stars as Ryan’s lost love Bill. He and Willa (Ryan) split while in college 25 years earlier.

The movie opens with two snowflakes swirling down and finally uniting as one amid the harsh wind that buffets the airport. I suppose the scene is a metaphor for the story that plays out before us.

Willa is a self-absorbed eccentric who works as a wellness practitioner — whatever that is — and Bill is an uptight businessman, who is going through a divorce while desperately seeking to reconcile with his angry daughter.

The issues that split them up a quarter of a century ago bubble back to the top as they get reacquainted at first from a distance as both sit as far from each other as possible while still maintaining a conversation. However, once they learn they are in for a long night together resentment fades and they once again begin to appreciate each other and a spark of sorts is rekindled.

The film has slight fantasy elements that at one point had me wondering if the airport itself might be a metaphor for purgatory as the two combed through the finer points of their split and begin to understand each other’s points of view a bit better all these years later. But that wasn’t the case.

The dialogue is buoyant and fun as Ryan and Duchovny’s verbal friction lifts the movie above the norm. It’s just enjoyable to watch them together even if every beat of the film doesn’t exactly work.

The movie may not be Grade-A rom-com material such as Ryan classics “When Harry Met Sally,” Sleepless in Seattle” or “You’ve Got Mail”, but it’s hard to resist the charm and chemistry of Duchovny and Ryan as a couple.

Grade: B-
(R) 1 hr. 43 min.

New in Local Theaters – Nov. 3, 2023

  • What Happens Later (R) 1 hr. 43 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle)
  • Priscilla (R) 1 hr. 50 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne)
  • Anatomy of a Fall (R) 2 hr. 32 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne)
  • The Persian Version (R) 1 hr. 46 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Springdale)
  • The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit to Goodbyes (NR) 1 hr. 24 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Springdale)
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter (R) 1 hr. 48 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle)

Review: Priscilla

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi in Priscilla (American Zoetrope)

“Priscilla” is another powerful piece of filmmaking from director Sophia Copella, adapting Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” to stunning effect.

The movie plays like a latter-day version of “Beauty and the Beast,” but without the happy ending, at least for the couple’s marriage. However Priscilla making her break away from Elvis’ manipulations can certainly be defined as a victory.

It will be hard to find two better performances this year than Cailee Spaeney who convincingly portrays Priscilla Beaulieu Presley from the doe-eyed age of 14 when she meets Elvis in Germany where he is stationed in the Army to 28, Priscilla’s age when she divorced Elvis in 1974, and embraces her identity beyond being someone’s possession.

Spaeny captures the naivety and curiosity of a young girl as well as the steely resolve of a woman who desires more from her life than being a small portion of another person’s story.

Jacob Elordi, known for his role in HBO Max’s “Euphoria,” is nearly as strong as the beguiling but sometimes sinister King of Rock and Roll, who meets Priscilla at the age of 14 in 1959, and attempts to mold her into the women of his dreams and keep her in that place like a fly in amber.

Priscilla does love Elvis, but begins to feel even more trapped in his world than he does. Elvis seeks to domineer Priscilla, but she reacts and adapts to his borderline and out-and-out abuse with craft, guile and determination to define her own life on her own terms. The scenes in which Pricilla and Elvis’ frustrations come to head is a dynamic and soul-wrenching collaboration by the two stars, their director and her crew.

Grade: A-
(R) 1 hr. 50 min.

Classic Corner – The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

“The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” is a diabolical love story that stands as one of the cornerstones of film noir. The 1946 film set in the fictional Pennsylvania factory town known as Iverstown boasts an outstanding cast, featuring Barbara Styanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas in his his cinematic debut,

The movie tells the hard-luck story of Martha Ivers, who lives with her wealthy but stern aunt Mrs. Ivers as a 13-year-old orphan. A willful and proud young woman, Martha gets into a fight with her Aunt after trying to sneak out with her boyfriend, Sam. When Mrs. Ivers lifts her cane to hit Martha, Martha wrestles the cane away from the old lady and wraps her on the head. The subsequent fall kills the older woman. Sam not only leaves the scene but also the town.

The son of Martha’s live-in tutor, Walter, saw the entire fight, but he backs up Martha’s lie about Mrs. Ivers’ fall being an accident to his father and the authorities because he has fallen in love with Martha.

Skipping ahead 17 years later, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and Walter (Kurt Douglas) are married. He still loves her, but she does not reciprocate; however, he is now the district attorney, and she has become an astute businesswoman overseeing the Ivers fortune.

But like a bad penny, Sam (Van Heflin) returns to town after serving in World War II. He makes his way in life as a gambler, but he has no idea what kind of stakes he’ll be playing for when he reunites with Martha and Walter.

The film which plays at 12:45 p.m. Sunday on Turner Classic Movies is filled with intrigue and is a fine example of the noir style that became popular in the late 1940s. Stanwyck is an actress that always seemed to have an angle, and she does in this film, too. Heflin becomes caught in the crosshairs of her and Douglas’ one-sided romance.

Douglas plays a hapless loser in the film, but even in his first role, you can see the makings of one of filmdom’s greatest stars.