11/16/2023 WHAT HAPPENS LATER Area Movie Theatres
THE PEOPLE WE’RE DONE WITH
We all have them. People we’re close to, extremely close to, who, for one reason or another, drop completely out of our lives. “People we’re done with.” Ex-lovers, friends who move to distant cities, classmates we only thought we were close to, family members who grow alien, even parents and children who have chosen a different life-way. As theatre people, we’re especially vulnerable to the intense friendships of our current gig wafting into ephemera as we move on to the next one.
What can happen when an “Ex-Person” accidentally crosses our path?
Such was the premise of Steven Dietz’ bittersweet comedy, Shooting Star, which had a wonderful production at Horizon Theatre way back in 2010. Now Rom-Com icon Meg Ryan and Mr. Dietz have tweaked the script a bit and made a movie, which is now in a hopeless battle with the first of the Holiday mega-movies. What can possibly go wrong?
To be fair, this is a two(ish)-character movie that cannot (or even should not) escape its stage roots and may be a bit too not-as-expected for Ms. Ryan’s fans. But I really liked it, for most of the same reasons I liked the original play, with, of course, a quibbly reservation about Ms. Ryan herself (who also directs.)
But first, let me cut and paste a bit of template background from my original 2010 review.
Bill and Willa (originally Reed and Elena) shared almost two years of intimacy back in their carefree college days 25 years ago. They went their separate ways and became (somewhat) different people. Now they meet again, stranded in a snowbound airport, waiting for connecting flights that may never come. Bill is now an unhappily buttoned-down executive, going from Boston to Austin to land a contract he knows he’ll never win. Willa is a free spirit, enroute from Austin to Boston to help “spiritually cleanse” a friend. He carries a cell phone connected to a young and clueless boss. She carries a rain stick.
They haven’t met or talked in over twenty-five years. Now, through the course of one long airport night, they reconnect, catch-up, re-open old wounds, pick at new ones, and gradually reveal to each other the unexpected paths their “post-us” lives have taken. Will this “re-connect” be a lasting one, or are they simply two old friends, passing in the night, struggling to keep someone else from becoming “someone I’m done with?” One of the joys of this movie is discovering the unexpected answer to this question.
David Duchovny and Ms. Ryan are engaging in these roles, and we soon forget that, a few extras aside (and a seemingly omniscient announcer), they carry the entire movie themselves. They charm us and each other, making us truly wonder how “far they’ll go” in the public spaces of the airport. Embodying completely opposite characteristics, it’s still easy to see how compatible they are, in that oddly compelling way opposites can attract. They speak in the same rhythms, laugh at the same jokes, love (and hate) the same music. They are still, after all these years, completely comfortable with each other, able to enjoy long silences as much as shared memories. These two stars completely sell the back-story, the history these two shared, the possibilities of a future that may come (or be sidestepped).
I loved how the dialogue completely characterizes them, how it can effortlessly zip from funny rumination to wistful regret. There wasn’t a line in the entire piece that felt contrived or out-of-place. Even the “magical” grace notes – an announcer (voiced by Hal Liggett) that seems to be talking just to them, a terminal that (unrealistically) is soon emptied of all others (including security folk), electronic ad boards that seemed to be designed just for them – all seem credible, uncontrived, and blithely amusing.
As to the “updates,” there are references to Wordl and other contemporary zeitgeist easter eggs, and they all work, giving the original 2005-era setting a timelessness that is compelling. In my original column I made the observation that social networking may be making the “people we’re done with” concept obsolete. I myself have “friended” a number of people I haven’t seen or even talked to since graduating High School in 1971. Still there are definitely people out there that who were once part of my life, whom I often think about, who no doubt took intriguing life paths that would make marvelous stories. I even regret the fact that I am an “ex-person” in so many lives. But in the context of this movie, I can believe that these two characters shun “Social Networking,” and, even if not, would probably have studiously avoided reaching out to each other.
I also really liked how many of the darker revelations from the play (piled into the final moments) are sprinkled throughout the screenplay, how, given that Willa and Bill now share a last name they may have even been married, how the tragedy that drove them apart is still an essential part of their lives. To be honest, this is one of the most effective play-to-screenplay adaptations I’ve seen in a while.
Ms. Ryan too gives us a number of effective directorial flourishes – a snogging couple in the foreground with Bill and Will separated behind them, a scene staged on a moving walkway going in the wrong direction, even an acknowledgement of the many aggravations of being snowbound in a small airport that seems to exist only to make connections to bigger cities. Neither character has a clue as to where they actually are.
Where the movie (slightly) missteps is in Ms. Ryan herself. She looks like she is trying too hard to appear younger, her makeup heavier than would be expected for this character, her facial features more “carved in stone” than vibrantly alive. Still, she retains that core magic that made her a star in the first place, and she and Duchovny have a very real chemistry that makes me overlook their visual age contrast.
And, for the record, what a treat it is see a Romantic Movie centered on characters closer to my own age, characters who bring more history than passion to the story.
Dylan sings “Seen a shooting star tonight, And I thought of you.” (and thank you Ms. Ryan for keeping the song in the movie.) I saw What Happens Later, and I thought of many people, people who were once in my life, people who are still in my life, even people I’ve never met, like all of you. It’s that kind of movie – warm and funny and moving, and entirely memorable. I strongly recommend you make it part of your autumn multi-plex schedule.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #WhatHappensLater #StevenDietz)