BENTONVILLE—A recent invitation to a screening of a made-in-Bentonville film mentioned the event would take place at Skylight Cinema. “I didn’t know Bentonville had a movie theater,” Philip said. I didn’t either.
Turns out, it’s the only one.
The film, a romantic comedy titled “What Happens Later” with Meg Ryan and David Duchovny, concerns a pair of ex-lovers who are snowed in overnight at a regional airport, resulting in a deconstruction of their former relationship and comparison of their present lives. It was mostly filmed at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Thaden Field, The Momentary and other locations in Bentonville.
Meg Ryan directed, and Kristin Mann is one of the producers. She lives in Bentonville. A vast majority of the film’s crew does too. The screening, a celebration of their work followed by an after-party at The Ledger (more about that later), was held at Skylight Cinema.
The idea behind the movie is intriguing, maybe more so than the execution. You take two well-known 60-ish actors who have deep reservoirs of good will with audiences (Ryan was arguably America’s Sweetheart for a decade and a half and Duchovny was in two culturally significant series: “The X Files” and Showtime’s “Californication”) and bring them together as old lovers with unresolved issues. While it’s no Oscar winner, it is the sort of film that the AARP might recommend for underserved grownups. It has a certain style.
So does the Skylight, a sophisticated movie and dining destination that opened in 2017 (nobody told me!) in the Arts District of Benton-ville southwest of the downtown square. According to Arkansas Money and Politics, it’s the first time a cinema has been in operation in Bentonville since Plaza Theater, in what is now the Meteor Guitar Gallery event venue, closed in 1985.
Skylight has five screens, with two screens showing the same film in one large room (a blackout curtain can be pulled between the paired screens, an arrangement I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been in cinemas all over the country). The screens are mounted higher than most audiences are used to; as the guy sitting next to me explained, the cushy reclining leather seats tilt waaaay back so that the viewer is practically looking upward.
This unfettered view comes in handy, as there are often cheerful servers bustling up and down the wide aisles, taking orders for extensive offerings of snacks (soft pretzel sticks, chips and queso, steak quesadilla, carne asada fries), burgers and chicken sandwiches (served with waffle fries), pizza, chicken wings, mini corn dogs, entrees, salads and wraps, plus a drink menu, including cocktails, beers, wine (I enjoyed a decent pour of pinot noir for $8, served in a stemmed wine glass, not a typical movie-theater paper cup), and boozy milkshakes.
For those who aren’t accustomed to table service in a movie theater, there is walk-up service for popcorn (free refills), candy, ice cream, chocolate cookies, milkshakes, fountain drinks, and bottled drinks.
It’s reminiscent of Alamo Draft House in Austin, Texas, which was doing this sort of thing decades ago; I always enjoyed viewing screenings during SXSW film festivals, although the original Alamo is considerably funkier than Skylight.
After the “What Happens Later” screening we headed across the street to Ledger, which bills itself the world’s first bikeable building with switchback ramps that lead up six stories (3/4 mile, the same distance to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). The structure (230,000 square feet) contains custom and private offices, shared workplaces, reservable space, shops, and plentiful access to coffee.
Workplace members have access to amenities such as secure bike storage, eBike charging, onsite showers on every floor, a lounge with lockers for gear, water bottle stations, and changing rooms.
That’s where we enjoyed decent wine (alas, no snacks! I should have ordered something at Skylight Cinema) and chats with enthusiastic members of Bentonville’s filmmaking community, as well as expansive views of the area (Bentonville is relatively flat, surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery).
We had a great time, and continue to expand our love affair with the city, especially its innovative use of residential and commercial architecture and cultural amenities. The evening ruefully reminded us of how, back in the mid-2000s, before Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened, we toyed with the idea of buying a tiny town house as a getaway space; we probably could have done so for around $90,000.
Too late—$90,000 would barely cover the cost of a small lot on the outskirts. The median listing home price in booming Bentonville is now $593,300 ($235 per square foot).
One of the themes of “What Happens Later” is what might have been for the erstwhile couple at the center of the unusual rom-com. We all might relate. Every choice we make forecloses some other option. In another timeline, the Skylight could have been our neighborhood cinema.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.