Meg Ryan’s Rom-Com Return: Aging, Love, and the Timelessness of Cinema Romance.

Meg Ryan, the iconic actress, is back in the limelight at 61, both directing and leading in a fresh romantic comedy.

Many are left stunned, as the Meg Ryan they remember is perpetually the endearing protagonist of Nora Ephron’s classics like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Yet, Ryan herself seems taken aback by the rapid march of time, chuckling at the thought of her age. She reflects not with regret but with a kind of surprise at how swiftly the years have flown by.

Presenting “What Happens Later,” set to hit theaters this Friday, the narrative unveils the charming tale of an estranged couple who cross paths after 25 years. The setting? An airport, where a storm has left Willa (Ryan) and William (David Duchovny) stranded, compelling them to reminisce about lost dreams. The lure of the story wasn’t the age factor for Ryan, but the underlying theme, as she shared with USA TODAY. The film is a transformation of Steven Dietz’s play “Shooting Star,” co-scripted by Ryan and Kirk Lynn.”

“Love has always intrigued me,” Ryan admits. “Regardless of age, everyone grapples with love.”

It’s been almost a decade since we last saw Ryan grace the silver screen, and astonishingly, 14 years since her previous rom-com. Her return evokes nostalgia, reminding fans of the characters that won their hearts years ago.

Meg Ryan's Rom-Com Return
Meg Ryan's Rom-Com Return

The release of the “What Happens Later” trailer in August was a milestone. It resonated with women, especially those in their 50s. The trailer didn’t merely preview a film—it delivered a powerful statement, acknowledging their presence, their relevance, their desires, and the possibility of romance at any age, even with someone like Duchovny.

Hollywood, often accused of sidelining women post their 40s, is now slowly recognizing their value. Movies like “The Golden Bachelor,” “Ticket to Paradise” starring Julia Roberts, and “The Lost City” featuring Sandra Bullock are testaments to this change. However, Meg Ryan, an actress many grew up watching, offers a unique connection, reviving hopes of romance.

Ryan’s focus isn’t on the physical aspects of aging but rather the deeper emotional evolution that comes with it. She embodies complex characters, intertwined with wisdom, confidence, regrets, and disappointments. During a virtual interview from Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel, her expressive gestures remind us of the Ryan we’ve loved on screen.

Throughout the discussion, Ryan and Duchovny engage in playful exchanges, reminiscent of their on-screen chemistry. “Love is timeless,” Ryan emphasizes, pointing out the gap in movies that spotlight 50-somethings exploring romance.

Post her split with John Mellencamp in 2019 and her previous marriage to Dennis Quaid, Ryan contemplates the transformative nature of love over time. She says, “The lens through which I viewed love at 20 was different. Time has shown me the intricate blend of innocence and experience.”

Recent statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reveal a disparity in representation based on age. While one-third of last year’s films had speaking roles for women in their 30s, the figures dwindled to 8% for those in their 50s. Male counterparts fared better.

“What Happens Later” is more than a romantic tale. It delves deep, posing introspective questions about life choices and the age-old “What if?” It touches upon age-related issues humorously, with Ryan’s character, Willa, attributing her limp to “old people-ness.” They also confront past misunderstandings and unveil hidden truths.

A notable scene is their dance to “Pure” by Lightning Seeds—a nostalgic track that will strike a chord with those familiar with the late ’80s and early ’90s music.

For Ryan, the film is not just about reconnecting with past lovers but also about the transcendence of music and memories. It’s about meeting someone and instantly journeying back in time. With this film, Ryan ensures that her audience does just that—travels back in time with her.

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