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The rebirth of Meg Ryan: the actress turned TikTok icon is back with a new romantic comedy

The quintessential 90s movie star returns to the genre that made her famous, with ‘What Happens Later’

Meg Ryan
A still from the movie 'What Happens Later'.

There’s even a new term for it — “megaissance” — as thousands of tweeters and posters urge each other to recreate the Barbie mania and take up the dress code for opening night at the theaters. But this time, instead of pink clothes, it’s cozy wool sweaters, baggy pants and loafers. Meg Ryan’s comeback deserves no less. After eight years of professional hiatus and up to 14 since her last foray into the genre, the 90′s movie star returns to romantic comedy with What Happens Later. The film is co-written, directed and stars the actress herself, representing her symbolic return to an industry that didn’t hesitate to oust her from her place as Hollywood superstar once she decided to stop being America’s eternal sweetheart and opted for more mature roles. Her return coincides in time, moreover, with the vindication of Ryan as the perfect fall style icon for her new Gen Z fans.

Just days shy of her 62nd birthday, Ryan is clear that her return to the entertainment limelight is just a fleeting circumstance. “I feel like I had the ride, the Hollywood ride,” she told The New York Times. “I kind of went to the moon already. So I don’t have giant ambitions to be back in that.” Far from looking back with the resentment of a forgotten celebrity, the star of classics like When Harry Met Sally says she has never regretted her decision to leave the industry in 2009 to enjoy her personal life. “Film is a job, not a lifestyle,” she once quipped.

Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan, in ‘When Harry Met Sally.’

After the scorn Ryan experienced for starring in the erotic thriller In the Cut (2003), the Connecticut-born actress has preferred to focus on raising her two children. Together with the son she had with her ex, fellow actor Dennis Quaid, and her daughter Daisy, whom she adopted in 2006, Ryan moved to New York, where she lived for a decade. At that time, the tabloids were censuring her for her defense of cosmetic surgery and she joined the long list of stars shunned for “getting some work done,” like fellow celebrities Demi Moore and Renée Zellweger. A few years later, confined by the Covid-19 pandemic and with her children all grown up — Jack is a successful actor, most recently starring in the series The Boys, and Daisy has just started college — Ryan decided to start a new project as a director, after the critical and public failure of Ithaca.

What Happens Later narrates an encounter between two former lovers trapped in a regional airport during a snowstorm, together with their lingering grudges and inexhaustible tensions, after 30 years without seeing each other. “There’s a perspective you have when you’re older, about love. It’s different than puppy love. You slowly learn that love is easy, while relationships are hard,” she told Variety. Her return as an actress is not the result of personal desire, but a forced sacrifice in order to make the film. Despite another nostalgic reference joining the cast — David Duchovny of X-Files — Ryan was forced to take the leading role in order to secure financing to produce the film. With a budget of only three million dollars, they barely had 21 days to shoot, and they couldn’t even afford to screen it in front of an audience before its premiere. Then came the actors’ strike, although because the film was an independent production, they had special permission to promote it. And then there was the final obstacle: competing with Taylor Swift and the premiere of her film for The Eras Tour, which forced them to delay the release in theaters until November 3.

Be that as it may, the truth is that the premiere of What Happens Later could not have come at a more opportune moment for Ryan. Spontaneously, though following an online trend that first appeared in 2011, the social network TikTok has been teaming with thousands of tributes to the style popularized by the actress in classics like You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. Dubbed “Meg Ryan Fall,” the trend already has more than 10 million views on TikTok. Namely: cardigans of various beige tones, flared skirts, oversized blazers and bowler hats. Closet basics, with the same color scheme and combined with different textures. “It is the cutest thing ever. I saw pictures of girls trying on hats. I don’t know why it has anything remotely to do with me, but it is so sweet. It kills me,” she told People magazine.

@krista.lavrusik

kathleen kelly was the cardigan QUEEN of the 90s.👸🏼📩🍂 #recreatingoutfits #youvegotmail #kathleenkelly #megryanfall

♬ original sound - krista

The new film marks the actress’s long-awaited return to the genre that made her the international icon she still is today. “the way i feel about meg ryan returning to romcoms is how i imagine jesus’ disciples felt when he was resurrected,” the writer Zoë Rose Bryant wrote on X (formerly Twitter). What Happens Later is a sort of surrender to expectations, after Ryan spent so long trying to disassociate herself from the kind of films that made her the highest paid woman in Hollywood, pocketing up to $15 million for Kate & Leopold alone. “I’ve done more than 30 movies, and maybe only seven of them are rom-coms. I was trying [to do other genres]. It didn’t really work,” she confessed to Variety.

With a fortune estimated at $85 million, Meg Ryan can afford to steer her fate away from the capricious designs of Hollywood as much as she wants. “I have to say, I don’t think I was a very good famous person,” she told ET. “And I remember cars closing — like, expensive cars — and then you don’t hear the outside anymore. You’re roped off in that part of thing, and I just knew it’s just not good for an artist or a creative person to have limited life, in a way, to draw from.” In her years on hiatus from the limelight, she has spent her days buying and selling assets and designing and renovating luxury properties in New York City, the exclusive LA neighborhood of Bel-Air, and the Californian town of Montecito, another refuge for fellow celebrities like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Ariana Grande and Gwyneth Paltrow. After sharing a decade of her life with the musician John Mellencamp, in 2019 she announced the end of their relationship, and she is currently single. We will soon see if her long-lost and passionate romance with fame will be rekindled in theaters, this fall.

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