In her new film, Meg Ryan wrestles with the rom-com. The actress is challenging the ideals of the genre that made her a star.

Meg Ryan was hurting. Not metaphorically. The actress and one-time rom-com queen was actively sore, having spent the morning, one of the many, unpacking and moving herself into a home she'd been renovating in Montecito, Calif.

Persevering through the painful twinge, making order out of the past - really, finding comfort in the present - are the sneaky subcurrents of Ryan's new movie, '' What Happens Later,'' a wily rom-com that she co-wrote, stars in and directed.

A two-hander opposite David Duchovny, it distills moviedom conventions and plays with a different emotional palette; Ryan grappling with her own cinematic brand. It's only her second foray behind the camera and the first time she has appeared onscreen in seven years.

Though she'd always done dramatic work, it was romantic comedy that brought Ryan megastar status in the '80s and '90s : Nora Ephron's '' Sleepless in Seattle,'' '' You've Got Mail''  and ''When Harry Met Sally........'' [ which Ephron wrote and Rob Reiner directed] were all form-defining blockbusters, still beloved today.

Returning to the genre at this point in her career is both safe and gutsy. She knows how to play the beat.

In the film, which opened last Friday, Bill and Willa are opposites-attract paramours who split up in their 20s and have their meet-cute when they bump into each other at a regional airport in their 50s.

They get snowed in. Banter ensues. No one and nothing else enters the picture, except time, personal history and the disembodied voice of the airport announcer, whose messages get increasingly pointed.

Those touches gave it a magical realist twist that was all Ryan, Duchovny said. 

Especially since they shot almost entirely overnight, in an off-duty airport or at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark, the whole production felt mystical.

'' She doesn't make anything look difficult, and that doesn't mean it isn't,'' Duchovny said in a phone interview. '' As much as we hated physically working nights, there was a mood that descended that was good for creating. Real life faded away.''

The World Students Society thanks author Melena Ryzik.


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