There’s a warm, life-affirming balm that radiates throughout Raine Allen-Miller’s brilliant South London rom-com Rye Lane. The bold, sun-kissed bright colours that embrace South London’s vibrancy. The stylised fish-eye lenses which add visual inventiveness to its storytelling. The razor-sharp, laugh out loud comedy which energetically delights. And its leading stars – David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah – exude lovable chemistry in every frame. For the amount of endless charm it possesses (a feeling I haven’t felt from a movie in a long time), it easily puts a smile on a romantic sap like myself.
Rye Lane doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The celebrated art of ‘boy meets girl, girl meets boy’ in the epic back and forth dance known as ‘the meet-cute’, will always be an endearing quality with rom-coms. Think of it as a cosy blanket that warms the soul. Formulaic? Yes – but who cares! Rom-coms understand the assignment when it comes to entertaining their audience with grand gestures of love. With plenty of heart and confidence, Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script riffs off those familiarised principles to craft a heart-warming and hilarious experience.
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It begins with a chance encounter. Like a bird’s eye view of the world, capturing small glimpses of everyday life, the camera pans overhead toilet cubicles of baby nappy changing, bathroom selfies, and vomiting customers. When the camera settles, we’re introduced to Dom (Industry‘s David Jonsson), the softly-spoken accountant reeling from his breakup with his girlfriend Gia (Karene Peter). In having “a private moment”, his tears attract the attention of aspiring fashion designer Yas (Vivian Oparah). With curiosity getting the better of her, the pair strike up a conversation spanning a day in the life of their new romantic adventure across South London.
It’s somewhat inevitable that Miller’s film will see endless comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and British films such as Love Actually and Notting Hill (a film which erases Black people from the area despite hosting a famous carnival every year in August). Such is the location, and the lack of Black British films about love highlights not only the state of the UK film industry (you only have to look at the recent BAFTAs ceremony at the lack of diverse winners) but how Miller’s film increases the desire to see more stories that vie away from stereotypes that demonise Black people.
We are more than the depictions of criminals, gangsters and drug dealers. Yet, now and again, the culture has to remind its audience of the value, talent, and art Blackness holds with abundance. The erasure of such problematic attitudes has a long way to go, especially when you have an ill-advised Guardian article which accuses Miller’s film of gentrification (it doesn’t need the clicks which I’m saving you from). Frankly, Miller’s film is the opposite of that bizarre hot take. Rye Lane, which showcases its community with love, affection and immaculate detail, truly is a love letter to the city.
It’s the focused emphasis on Black love which really stirs the soul. Rye Lane is a beautiful reminder of that feeling, knowing we don’t see enough of this in the media we consume. Seeing two Black characters who converse through their insecurities and relationship pitfalls celebrates the ordinary within the extraordinary when the themes are universal at heart. Bryon and Melia’s script never presents the future soulmates as suave or debonair. Elements of a coming-of-age drama are infused into the screenplay, filled with self-discovery and re-igniting a faith once lost through their respective heartbreaks. Their connection is joyfully awkward yet positively grounded in showcasing their differences. Yas is more outgoing and unapologetic. Sensible Dom has egg soldiers for breakfast, thanks to his mother! Together – they are a force to be reckoned with.
The film frames this beautifully, thanks to Olan Collardy’s cinematography. Like an Aaron Sorkin ‘walk and talk’, scenic walkabouts through Peckham and Brixton capture Dom and Yas’s shared intimacy. Their walkabouts feel like a curated secret, away from Big Ben, The London Eye and other recognisable tourist attractions that Central London presents on a postcard. It’s a good feeling when you recognise the community on the big screen, and as the audience falls in love with them, they fall for each other.
Miller’s direction occasionally breaks away from convention, distinguishing itself from other rom-coms in the zeitgeist. Filled with creative escapism and fantasy, flashbacks have the wildest swings, where ‘perception versus reality’ can take the star-crossed characters into each other’s world. A trip to the cinema with Dom as he re-experiences the moment he found out his girlfriend was cheating on him with his best friend Nathan (Simon Manyonda) is a playful ‘out of body’ experience. Yas’s break-up is more theatrical – worthy of a stage play. These artistic choices (along with some well-timed cameos) provide Rye Lane with ample, laugh-out-loud material.
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Running comfortably at 82 minutes, Rye Lane never overstays its welcome, even if its ending is where you predictably expect. But that doesn’t matter. The film works because of Jonsson and Oparah’s indelible chemistry. Their enriched personalities boldly channel the film’s eccentricities and fun mishaps, living in the moment as their on-screen counterparts would. As the audience, you just want to spend more time in their world – that’s how brilliant their performances are, adding to the film’s simplicity and highly-entertaining qualities.
Rye Lane ushers Raine Allen-Miller as a new voice for a generation. Her directorial debut is full of joy, wit, wonder and life – and if you are looking for an alternative, away from the Hollywood machine, make sure you check out this gem. You won’t regret it.
Rye Lane is out now in cinemas.