"What Happens Later" (2023) Ending Explained: The Perfect Imperfections


"What Happens Later" is a heartwarming film that marks the directorial debut of the ever-charming Meg Ryan. The iconic actress we've adored in classics like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle," steps into the director's chair for this enchanting ride.

"What Happens Later" spins the tale of Bill and Willa, two former lovers whose paths cross again in the most unexpected way—thanks to canceled flights and a sprinkle of destiny. The film takes us on a journey through open relationships, misunderstandings, and the heartbreaking decisions that led to their separation.

As the characters confront their demons and find newfound strength, the film poses a lingering question: will they or won't they end up together? The airport becomes a symbol of destiny, and the closing scenes leave us in suspense, contemplating the unpredictable nature of love and life.

Chance Encounter at the Airport

Bill and Willa's paths collided in the most unexpected place—the airport. Bill, with his connecting flight plans, had his eyes set on Austin, Willa on Boston, and fate had other plans. A connecting flight and bad weather played puppeteer, stranding them both at the airport.

Bill, caught in a moment of uncertainty on how to approach Willa, probably wished for a swift departure to avoid the awkwardness. But destiny had a different script in mind. Their chance meeting at that airport felt like a scene out of a fantasy, an unexpected twist that had the potential to rewrite their story.

Bill and Willa faced each other after years - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

As Bill and Willa faced each other after years apart, the air was thick with awkward small talk. It's that moment when you're catching up with an old flame, and you're both tip-toeing around the unspoken, trying desperately not to address the past.

Their dialogue danced around the edges of what went wrong, steering clear of the breakup that once left them both in pieces. But, in that discomfort, seeds of connection were sown. The small talk, though uneasy, opened the door to meaningful conversations that would follow, unraveling the layers of their shared history.

Reconnecting and Meaningful Conversations

As the conversation unfolded, Bill spilled the beans about his life after their split. He got married and, became a proud dad to a lovely girl named Rosie. Now, Rosie had dreams of becoming a professional dancer, and here's where things got real.

Bill and Willa talk about their career - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

Bill opened up about a moment that tugged at his heartstrings—when Rosie shared her dream of dancing. Conflicted and uncertain, Bill found himself in a tough spot. It was a classic parent dilemma, and he found himself fumbling for the right words to support Rosie while wrestling with his own fears for her future.

Willa is a professional masseuse. In the midst of the heart-to-heart, she revealed her career path, and suddenly, the airport backdrop became a therapy session. Willa, bound for Boston, explained how she was on her way to support a friend named Ginny, navigating the tumultuous waters of divorce.

The layers of their lives began to unravel, and we got a glimpse of the scars that time had left on both Bill and Willa. From the awkward small talk emerged a river of meaningful conversations. It's like they started with a hesitant wade and ended up diving into the deep end. The airport, once a symbol of transience, transformed into a space for reconnection and understanding.

With each passing moment, sarcastic remarks were exchanged like a game of verbal tennis. Willa, still nursing the wounds from their previous breakup, didn't shy away from pointing out Bill's shortcomings.

The air crackled with unresolved tension, and as they danced around the topic of their breakup, you could feel the weight of their history hanging in the air. It was a delicate dance of addressing the past without fully stepping into its shadows.

The Past: Why Bill Left Willa?

Bill and Willa, star-crossed lovers, made a pact to dive into the complexities of an open relationship. Now, it might sound all cool and modern, but it did stir up a storm beneath the surface.

Bill, on the surface, pretended to be A-okay with the whole open relationship deal. But deep down, lurking behind that facade, was a man with insecurities and a longing for the simplicity of a traditional love story.

Behind Bill's confident exterior was a guy who craved the comfort of a traditional relationship. He might have donned the mask of 'cool and accepting,' but inside, he was wrestling with insecurities and a desire for the kind of love that comes with commitment and exclusivity.

It's like he had a script in his mind, a traditional love story where he plays the leading man. And in this complex dance of emotions, Bill found himself torn between what he thought he wanted and what he truly desired.

Bill and Willa talk about the misunderstandings which led to their breakup - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

Now, cue the heart-wrenching misunderstandings that became the undoing of Bill and Willa. As the open relationship experiment unfolded, Bill's insecurity played puppeteer, pulling the strings of doubt and confusion.

Willa, on her end, felt the weight of Bill's silent reservations. The elephant in the room grew larger, and the strain became too much to bear. In a twist of fate, just before the storm hit, Willa found herself expecting. A pregnancy in the midst of their relationship drama—a true plot twist.

Fueled by fear and uncertainty, Bill decided to end their relationship and walk away. The decision, however, was made in haste, and it left scars that lingered for years.

As fate would have it, a miscarriage added a tragic layer to their already complicated tale. The misunderstanding, the fear of the unknown, and the lack of open communication played their parts in the demise of what could have been a beautiful love story.

Fast forward to the present, and Bill, standing before Willa after so many years, faced the harsh reality of what might have been. The weight of missed opportunities and the pain of past decisions rested heavy on his shoulders.

Twists and Turns in Their Lives

Just when you thought things couldn't get more complicated, enter Beth Ann, Bill's wife. A phone call, a conversation about Rosie, and suddenly the stakes are higher than ever. Beth Ann drops the bomb that Rosie, their daughter, has decided to stay with her for a while.

Bill and Willa talk about their present lives - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

It's a tough pill to swallow when your child chooses the other parent's company over yours. The dynamics of Bill's relationship with Rosie add a layer of complexity to an already intricate tale.

Willa, in her own revelation, opens up about a daughter named Maggie, given up for adoption years ago. The shockwaves of this revelation echo through the narrative, adding another layer of complexity to their intertwined lives.

Maggie, the daughter hidden in the shadows, becomes a poignant symbol of decisions made and paths untaken. Willa's journey to reconnect with Maggie unveils the depth of the sacrifices made in the name of love and the haunting consequences of those choices.

As if fate was determined to keep the plot riveting, Bill drops the bombshell of his own—divorce. The unraveling of his marriage adds a layer of vulnerability to Bill's character. Suddenly, the man who seemed to have it all is faced with the harsh reality of a fractured family.

Bill talks to her daughter Rosie on call - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

In the midst of this emotional storm, an unexpected call from Rosie flips the script. Bill, once the bearer of discouragement regarding Rosie's dream of becoming a dancer, finds himself recanting his words. It's a moment of reckoning, a chance for redemption as he urges Rosie to pursue her dreams.

The twists and turns in the lives of Bill and Willa are catalysts for confronting their inner demons. The airport, once a mere backdrop, transforms into a stage for self-discovery and redemption.

As Bill and Willa navigate the complexities of their past, face unexpected revelations, and deal with the challenges thrown their way, they discover reservoirs of strength within themselves. The demons that once haunted their relationship are now being confronted, paving the way for a journey of healing and rediscovery.

Ambiguous Ending: Will They or Won't They?

The flight cancellations, seemingly mundane, become the threads woven by destiny itself. As fate beckons, Willa reveals a truth that that she's not heading to Boston for her friend Ginny but to meet her long-lost daughter, Maggie, whom she gave up for adoption.

Bill and Willa part ways to their own Flights - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

As the airport loudspeakers announce the impending departure, Bill, feeling the weight of the moment, suggests exchanging numbers. It's a moment pregnant with possibility, a subtle invitation to the future. The offer hangs in the air, a question mark that lingers.

The potential for future meetings is left tantalizingly open. Will they, won't they? The ambiguity becomes a canvas for our imagination, inviting us to fill in the blanks with our hopes and dreams for Bill and Willa.

In a twist that tugs at our heartstrings, Willa, displaying newfound strength, suggests that perhaps going separate ways is the right course of action. It's a departure from the expected, a choice that defies the conventional narrative of a Hollywood ending.

Bill's and Willa's Flights take off and love appears in the sky - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

But here's the kicker—the newfound courage. Bill and Willa, armed with the strength to face life's uncertainties, decide to part ways with a sense of gratitude. The extra day life has granted them becomes a gift, a chance to reconcile with the past and move forward with newfound courage.

In the ambiguity of the ending, we find a beauty that mirrors real life. It's not always neatly wrapped up with a bow, and sometimes the strength to let go becomes the true happy ending. The tale of "What Happens Later" leaves us with a bittersweet symphony of emotions—a perfect blend of closure and the promise of new beginnings.

Public and Critical Reception

The movie has had its fair share of applause and, well, a bit of skepticism. Audience scores? They're moderate, sitting at a respectable level. Critics, on the other hand, seem to have some mixed feelings. It's like we're all sitting in the theater, and opinions are flying like popcorn kernels.

Some say it's a classic Meg Ryan rom-com, while others might be scratching their heads a bit. But hey, that's the beauty of movies; everyone's got their own take, right?

But the ending has got people talking. The ambiguity, the open-endedness—it's like a cliffhanger that leaves us hanging on the edge of our seats, craving more.

Some folks appreciate the realism, the departure from the typical tied-with-a-bow conclusions. It's a departure from the predictable, and for some, that's the real charm. Others might be yearning for a more definitive resolution, a clearer picture of what happens later.

Poster - What Happens Later - Bleecker Street
Image Credit: Bleecker Street

Meg Ryan and David Duchovny, the maestros behind the scenes, have shared their thoughts on the film's conclusion. Meg, in her classic style, describes it as "perfect." For her, the movie isn't about the certainty of a happily-ever-after but about the journey these characters take together.

David Duchovny, on the other hand, throws the ball into the audience's court. He wants us to debate, to discuss—should Bill and Willa end up together? It's like they're handing us the reins of the story, letting us be the architects of our interpretation.

In their eyes, the ending isn't a cop-out; it's an invitation. An invitation to continue the story in our minds, to ponder on the complexities of love, and to relish the beauty of a tale that mirrors the intricacies of real life.

Wrap Up

In Meg's world, perfection doesn't mean neatly tied bows and predictable resolutions. It's about capturing the essence of life's unpredictable dance, where love is messy, complicated, and beautifully imperfect.

The conclusion isn't about giving us all the answers; it's an invitation to embrace the unknown, to revel in the beauty of stories that mirror the complexities of our own lives. "What Happens Later" is a tale that challenges the conventional norms of romantic storytelling.

The film's exploration of open-ended relationships, past regrets, and the impact of choices on our lives strikes a chord. It becomes a mirror, allowing us to glimpse into our own experiences, question our assumptions, and perhaps find solace in the shared complexities of human connections.

As viewers, we're evolving, and our taste in romantic stories is evolving with us. The reception of this film could be a sign that we're craving more than the predictable narratives. We want stories that mirror the messiness of real life, stories that challenge our preconceived notions of love and endings.

In essence, "What Happens Later" might just be a trailblazer, paving the way for a new era in romantic comedies. The genre is stretching its wings, exploring uncharted territories, and inviting us to join the journey.

Watch "What Happens Later" on Apple TV+.

What Happens Later (2023) Ending Explained The Perfect Imperfections

Author: Ted Lasso

Author/Writer - Ted Lasso

Meet Ted Lasso, a Bachelor of Arts graduate with a unique passion for the world of Entertainment. With an innate talent for capturing the essence of TV shows & Movies, he crafts engaging articles, covering everything from latest Entertainment news to in-depth Fan theories. Ted's love for storytelling through the lens of Cinema and TV makes him a captivating voice in the world of entertainment journalism, ensuring you'll always have something exciting to watch next.

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