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Whatever Happened to Meg Ryan?

November 7, 2015

12194918_10153770559584074_3162375827326706703_oMeg Ryan hasn’t made a movie since 2009’s Serious Moonlight — which, I must confess, I’ve never heard of — but she’s back in front of the camera (and, for the first time, behind it) with Ithaca, an adaptation of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy that screened at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. I’ve never been a big fan of Ryan’s cutesy acting, but I’m shocked and delighted to report she’s a born director.

In a Q&A following the film, Ryan mentioned that she loves photography and her home is full of pictures she’s taken, and she’s got a striking visual style. Gorgeous images permeate the pleasingly old-fashioned yet dark story of Homer Macauley (impressive first-timer Alex Neustaedter, in a role that earned Mickey Rooney an Oscar nomination in 1943), a small-town messenger forced to confront the stark realities of life and death in World War II-era America.

His older brother Marcus (Jack Quaid, Ryan’s gifted real-life son) is fighting overseas, and his father (Tom Hanks, in a haunting cameo that reunites him with two-time rom-com partner Ryan) has recently passed away. At the unripe young age of 14, Homer must become the man of the house for his mother (Ryan) as well as his sister Bess (Christine Nelson) and four-year-old brother Ulysses (scene stealer Spencer Howell).

Much of the film’s action takes place at the telegraph office where Homer works with the wry Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater, bringing his typically light touch) and the sweet-souled alcoholic Willie Grogan (Sam Shepard, doing his best screen work in years). The film unfolds at a leisurely, pre-Internet pace, yet it manages to tell a complete coming-of-age story in a mere 96 minutes.

12191253_10153770666369074_7812551171784698021_oMy only quibble with Ithaca is that Ryan miscasts herself as the Macauley matriarch. In the post-screening talk, producer Janet Brenner admitted that having Ryan on screen helped to raise the film’s tight $5 million budget (it was shot in 23 days in Petersburg, Va.). But at 54, she’s a bit too old to play the mother of a four-year-old convincingly and her signature “trout pout” seems fishy in the 1940’s, when cosmetic surgery wasn’t so common.

Ryan said she’d like to direct again — and that she wouldn’t cast herself in her next film — and I hope she makes good on both those promises. She’s sure-handed as a storyteller, composing shots of 20th century Americana worthy of Norman Rockwell and expertly utilizing the evocative score composed by her ex-beau, John Mellencamp. While Ithaca doesn’t quite reach the orgasmic heights of Ryan’s When Harry Met Sally… Katz’s Deli scene, I’ll still have what she’s having.


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  1. Paul S permalink

    Interesting article. I was wondering, do Meg and Tom Hanks share any scenes in Ithaca?

    • bruceafretts permalink

      Yes, they do–three or four brief, nearly wordless scenes.

  2. kukumo permalink

    Nice article after seeing yet another Angelina Jolie directing catastrope “By the sea” in previews

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