One of the breakout films at Sundance this year, Raine Allen-Miller’s feature debut Rye Lane is a delightful romantic comedy that offers a fresh spin on classic tropes. As colourful as the characters within it, the film finds humour and hope in the river of insecurities that flow between the end of a relationship and the fertile grounds of new love on the other side.
Taking the familiar boy meets girl and spend the day together in conversation approach, which made films like the Before Sunrise franchise memorable, the film follows two 20-somethings as they each try to come to terms with recent breakups. Crying in a toilet stall while scrolling through social media photos of his ex, Gia (Karene Peter), who left him for his best friend, Dom (David Jonsson) is a shell of his former self. He lacks the confidence of Yas (Vivian Oparah), who is coming off a failed relationship herself but seems to have a clearer outlook on life. Intrigued by sad sack Dom, Yas decides to stroll with him for a while through local parks and the Rye Lane market.
Discovering that Dom is about to meet Gia and former bestie Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni) for lunch, a cringe-worthy choice only a masochist would willingly endure, Yas makes the impulsive decision to crash the meal and pose as his new girlfriend. Succeeding in making Dom’s former love jealous, and helping to glue together his shattered ego, the pair soon find themselves embarking on a mission to liberate Yas’ copy of A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory album from the clutches of her ex’s, Jules (Malcolm Atobrah), apartment.
As they travel throughout South London, stopping at cookouts and karaoke clubs in search of Jules’ spare key, the pair slowly learn a little more about one another and themselves in the process. With the spark of love growing into a potentially robust flame, the duo must confront some hard truths they each have been trying to ignore. For Dom, this means coming to terms with the fact that one’s relationship does not define their entire identity. Whereas Yas must realize that just because one wears the mask of confidence, it does not protect you from the things you fear the most.
In breaking down the facades and expectations that often create barriers to finding true happiness, Rye Lane gleefully emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. Allen-Miller’s film understands that opening oneself to the possibility of love and/or heartbreak is a risky venture, but one always worth taking. While much of the key moments of bonding take place over the course of a day, no second feels wasted by the couple or the director.
Part of the reason the day itself feels so vital is the energy that Allen-Miller brings to the film through its visuals. Frequently using a fisheye view, as if reminding viewers of the world of possibilities waiting at the margins while simultaneously keeping the budding couple at the center, it playfully makes each environment feel almost dreamlike. Add to this the numerous quick edits and the way the surreal flashback pulls them into each other’s mind, and you get a work that crackles with creativity.
For all its stylish flare and sharp humour, it is Dom and Yas themselves, and those they interact with, that are the special sauce to this delicious dish. Rye Lane does a wonderful job of keeping itself grounded in a world that feels real. One can practically taste the Wray and Nephew rum at the barbecue because the environment and the people feel so familiar.
This sense of genuine connection to South London, and the community’s universal appeal, is further accentuated by the wonderful performances by Jonsson and Oparah. Each bring an earnest relatability to their roles, displaying great chemistry and brilliant comedic timing as their characters navigate the frustration that comes with dating.
Offering a fresh take on familiar tropes, Rye Lane is an endlessly charming and vibrant film that warms the heart while leaving a permanent smile on your face.
I’ve heard about this film from Mark Kermode who really recommended this film and it has managed to find an audience in Britain. I hope to see this when it arrives on a streaming service near me.
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