THE STORY – Following two youngsters reeling from bad breakups who connect over a particularly eventful day in South London.
THE CAST – David Jonsson & Vivian Oparah
THE TEAM – Raine Allen-Miller (Director), Nathan Bryon & Tom Melia (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 82 Minutes
Don’t all great love stories start out in the toilet?
That’s where Director Raine Allen-Miller’s electric feature directorial debut “Rye Lane” begins, but it’s only uphill from there. “Rye Lane” does what so many great romantic comedies need to do to stay fresh in 2023. It takes all the familiar elements we’ve seen before from the genre and flips them around, bringing reinvigorated energy and wit that makes the film feel like something entirely new. While most romcoms lately, good or bad, rely primarily on the pairing of two A-listers with a loose plot structured behind them, “Rye Lane” lets the chemistry of its two lesser-known stars take the reins. The result is a beautiful blend of new and old that works like a charm and introduces the world to a new filmmaking talent who will be one to watch for many years.
But back to the toilet, where Yas and Dom (Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson, respectively) accidentally meet. They’re each getting over their respective breakups and handling the struggle differently. Dom’s dwells in pain, longing to understand, and cries in public bathrooms. Yas seems perfectly fine with her breakup, but she doesn’t quite have everything under control beneath the calm surface. The two meet at a mutual friend’s art show and begin a day-long flirtation, wandering the city and connecting over their failed romances. Without much pre-planning, the pair decides to help each other get over their exes. Yas joins Dom for lunch with his ex Gia (Karene Peter), and Dom’s friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni), the man she cheated with on Dom. Dom returns the favor by helping Yas steal back her favorite “A Tribe Called Quest” record from her snobby artist ex-boyfriend Jules (Malcolm Atobrah).
The comparisons between “Rye Lane” and “Before Sunrise” are apt, but only to a point. While “Rye Lane” has well-scripted, meandering conversations throughout walks around the city, the two characters are on a mission rather than simply killing time together. Instead of a relaxing, calm pace, “Rye Lane” is full of infectious vibrancy that propels the story forward at every turn. Nathan Byron and Tom Melia’s script finds the perfect balance between being cute and mature, both in the content of the conversations the two characters share and the complexity of the characters themselves. Every manic pixie dream girl cliche is avoided with Yas as she pushes Dom out of his comfort zone. We come to learn she has plenty of insecurities along the way, giving this story a perspective that feels evenly split between the two central characters.
Together, Oparah and Jonsson have brilliant chemistry as they announce themselves as stars to anyone lucky enough to watch this film. The entire movie is placed on their shoulders, and they don’t miss a beat in the film’s screenplay. You can feel the warmth developing between them scene by scene as Allen-Miller’s camera guides us from one colorful location to the next. Dom is a romantic, prone to big gestures of affection that never land with Gia. Yas can be intense, but she wants someone who loves life just as she does. They’re both stuck on their past relationships and what went wrong, but in less than 90 minutes, we get a complete picture of their lives, hopes, failures, and desires. The two offer some hilarious line readings as they laugh at each other’s mistakes, naturally falling in love but still entirely along for the ride with the other to find closure.
Yas and Dom take the audience on tour through South London, a part of the city rarely visited by American audiences. It’s vivid, lively, and never feels artificial in its presentation. It takes in all of the gorgeous cityscapes that amplify the spirit of our main characters. Allen-Miller’s directorial debut is full of distinct style, splashed with bright colors and wide angles to match the playfulness of the burgeoning love story. Her work brings escapism to the characters’ memories in unique ways too. As Yas flashes back to where her relationship went wrong, the story shifts focus to a stage as Dom watches on. As their memories collide under the perfectly synchronized direction, writing, and performances, we, too, can’t help but eventually fall in love.
“Rye Lane” is short and sweet, never overstaying its welcome. The movie flies by with breezy dialogue and hilarious escapades through karaoke bars, taco joints, and even a family barbeque. Above all, there’s an undercurrent of intoxicating possibilities that flow throughout the story, making us yearn for young love in contemporary stories and life. “Rye Lane” is a refreshing and relatable romantic comedy we rarely see executed this well.