It has felt like an eternity to Meg Ryan fans, but after an eight-year absence from Hollywood, everyone’s favorite rom-com queen is back and lighting up the big screen in the way that only she can. “What Happens Later” is a film that 61-year-old Ryan co-wrote, directed, and stars in opposite David Duchovny. The movie promises all the romance, humor, and charm you’d expect from the woman who made us all want to “have what she’s having,” in “When Harry Met Sally,” but Ryan says there are some notable differences.
“Sometimes there’s a question of: Will they be together? Will they not be together?” Ryan says, in quotes provided to EW from an interview conducted before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike. “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.”
While it may have a bit more melancholia and reflection, the plot is a rom-com classic: two former lovers meet by chance when they find themselves snowed in overnight at an airport. As they look back on their love affair all those years ago and explore regrets and what went wrong, we can’t help but think of America’s love affair with Ryan and wonder what went wrong. Why did she break up with us? And is she ready to take us back?
A Life in the Limelight
Meg Ryan didn’t mean to be a movie star. She did it for fun while attending New York University, where she studied to become a journalist. Hollywood, however, had other plans. After playing “good girl” Betsy on “the daytime drama “As the World Turns,” Ryan stole America’s heart as the adorable wife of Goose in the smash hit “Top Gun.” From there, her career skyrocketed, most notably in the romantic comedies that dominated the 80s and early 90s. From “You’ve Got Mail” to “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” Ryan was pigeonholed as the cute, perky, bubbly blonde.
She began to explore a different side of her acting ability, playing an alcoholic in “When A Man Loves A Woman,” before making a wrong turn with the sexually charged “In the Cut.” Turns out America wasn’t quite ready to see their favorite girl-next-door naked. She told The New York Times that “the reaction was vicious.”
“I’d never presented myself like that before; it was so different from my assigned archetype,” she said.
Couple that box office disaster with an ugly divorce from Dennis Quaid and a torrid affair with Russell Crowe, and Ryan’s reputation and career took a serious hit. As a result, she took a step back to regroup.
“I think the feeling with Hollywood was mutual. I felt done when they felt done, probably,” she said.
Learning to Live Outside of the Glare
While the culmination of those events may have been the catalyst for Ryan’s retreat, they weren’t the reason. Ryan has always eschewed fame and celebrity in as much as she was able, once telling “Entertainment Tonight,” “I have to say, I don’t think I was a very good famous person.” Ryan preferred to stay as private as possible and lead a life where her worth wasn’t defined by box office dollars, who she was dating, or how she looked. She relocated to New York, where she could slow down and focus on the things that really matter, namely her two children, Daisy (18), whom she adopted in 2006, and Jack (31), whom she shares with ex-husband Dennis Quaid She also pursued her hobbies and interests like writing, traveling, and photography.
In the current issue of People, she explained, “I took a giant break because I felt like there’s just so many other parts of my experience as a human being I wanted to develop.” She added, “It’s nice to think of it as a job and not a lifestyle. And that is a great way of navigating it for me.”
Although she flew largely under the radar after disappearing from Hollywood, she wasn’t completely immune to public scrutiny. The rare public appearance sparked “has she or hasn’t she” speculation around plastic surgery procedures and “are they or aren’t they” regarding her relationship with rocker John Mellencamp, to whom she was briefly engaged before calling it quits in 2019.
“I have fame that follows me around, but it comes in waves,” she explains to People.
Ryan may have returned to California and the big screen, but she hasn’t returned to the frantic pace and people-pleasing nature that defined her earlier years in Tinsel Town. She has the wisdom, perspective, and gratitude that comes with age and with knowing who you are, and she brings all of that to this new film.
“I’m grateful that I’m a mom, and I’m grateful that I have friends,” Ryan says, per ET. “I’m grateful that my life has so many different aspects to it. I traveled a lot. So, by now, I felt like, oh, I have some stuff to say with this movie.”
We, along with the rest of America, can’t wait to hear it.