Two twenty-somethings, both reeling from bad break-ups, connect over the course of an eventful day in South London – helping each other deal with their nightmare exes, and potentially restoring their faith in romance.
Named after a diverse and eclectic area of South London in the Peckham and Brixton neighborhoods, Rye Lane is a British romantic comedy that is beholden to the details and vibrations of a particular place and its people. The film is a heartfelt and soulful love letter to its titular namesake, as well as a superlative proof of concept for the romantic comedy subgenre at large. Having premiered back in January at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, this feature directorial debut from Raine Allen-Miller is mindfully infused with rom-com clichés rather than buoyed by them. Instead, greater attention and care is paid to the film's lively setting. So rarely does a film feel so fully inhabited wherein the locale is this intrinsic to the story being told; the characters, their shared experience, and the romantic connection between them benefit from this feeling of authenticity.
There is a distinct and tangible sense of community embedded within every scene of Rye Lane. In using lenses with angles wide enough to capture entire city blocks at a time, Allen-Miller regularly frames scenes in a wide shot where the focus is evenly distributed between the surrounding areas on the margins and the actors at the center. While she's certainly still interested in its characters and their choices, this filmmaker has an abundant enthusiasm for the subtle effects and influence that our environments can have on us. The world Dom and Yas inhabit feels real because it is real, and its descriptive features are integral to our implicit understanding of them as a couple. In this way, the film is perhaps most indebted to Before Sunrise, directed Richard Linklater. Like Jesse and Celine's love affair in Vienna, the romance at work in Rye Lane is at least partly inflamed by the immersive spontaneity of the beautiful, surrounding cityscape. The "I'll make you miss your last train today" line from Rye Lane feels like a direct callback to the "Baby, you are gonna miss that plane" line from Before Sunrise, right?
Even still, all the hallmark rom-com stereotypes are still at work in Rye Lane: there's a not-so-cute-meet-cute between the two charming leads (in a gender-neutral toilet at an art exhibit); there are hijinks and shenanigans that strengthen their bond culminating in the moment they inevitably hook-up (an iconic karaoke performance of "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa); there's a "will they or won't they?" montage; there's a lightbulb moment where they realize they should be together; and of course, there's a grand moment of reunion that signals the film's happy ending. But even still, the script is tight and no bit or plot deviation overstays its welcome — with an 82-minute runtime, there's little time to waste! Here's to my restraint in not regurgitating the best jokes or spoiling a top-notch cameo...
The characters are relatable and a joy to spend time with, whether they are swapping breakup stories or meeting each other's exes. David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah are both delightful as Don and Yas — their shared chemistry is palpable, and together they are genuinely funny. Acting within a genre that so often produces feelings that are emotionally artificial or superficial can be tricky, but the film does a job of calibrating tonality around its actors rather than subjecting them to it. Despite the attention given to the city around them, the film is still grounded by strong characterization.
Rom-coms are unique in that if done so correctly, their procedural nature is endlessly replicable. Rarely does stylish invention disrupt the genre's algorithmic structure and familiar ubiquity. Rye Lane, to its credit, innovates on its own terms and creates feelings of universality that are rooted in acute specificity — there is no backwash or bullshit to be found. Its success proves that the modern romantic comedy cannot only exist but can be refreshed while still feeling familiar.
Available to stream on Hulu as of March 31.
Whoa, this was one hell of a good pour. I had this following my viewing, and it was an excellent way to cap off my night! This had a nice aroma and a well-balanced flavor with hints of vanilla and pistachio. Not sure I have more in-depth analysis than that — but I'd certainly opt for another round if I had the chance! Love Guac'tually, y'all.
Vera (Nitro) Cream Ale | 5.2% ABV Around the Bend Beer Co. @atbbeerco