Review: Rye Lane


Director:  Raine Allen-Miller

Stars:  David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Poppy Allen-Quarmby

In the fish-eyed world of Raine Allen-Miller’s zesty new romcom Rye Lane, the backroads, parks and markets of South London provide the spirited backdrop to an ostensibly conventional meet-cute. Beginning in the least glamorous of locales – the unisex bathroom of an arts centre – two young Black Londoners are brought together having both been recently wounded in their respective break-ups.

For relatively straight-laced, pink Converse-wearing Dominic (David Jonsson), three months ago is still very fresh, and Instagram posts of his ex having a paint party (with his former best-friend, no less) bring him to tears in a grotty cubical. It is here that Yas (Vivian Oparah) first encounters him, offering anonymous solidarity (of a sort) through a locked stall door. Dom’s telltale footwear gives him away later on in a more acceptable open space, the gallery floor. Extroverted and effervescent, the plucky Yas gets talking to him and so begins a day-long odyssey that roams Peckham and Brixton by way of Brockwell Park.

Largely ditching the touristy side of England’s capital, Rye Lane presents a more authentically grassroots experience, one pocked with graffiti, bright colours and an unforced sense of lived-in community. In the process it manages to feel thoroughly refreshing while adhering to many of the genre’s tried and tested staples. The embarrassing meet between our prospective lovebirds we’ve already covered. But there’s also the telltale first act lie that’s destined to blow-up at the end of act two, as well as a simple but effective through-line that allows opportunities for awkward first-interactions with family members and those dreaded exes. Indeed, the only thing that bursts Allen-Miller’s otherwise concrete sense of jovial sincerity is an unnecessary and unusual cameo from a major British star (sorry Munya Chawawa, I don’t mean you).

The script – a two-hander by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia – feels lively without coming across as patronisingly eager to recreate ‘hip’ Gen Z speech idioms. Granted, they’re peppered in there (I may be a late-Millennial, but I’ve heard “peng” before), but the flow from the expert leads makes their appearance natural, not stilted, and mercilessly free of condescension. In Jonsson and Oparah the film finds itself two real aces. They have abundant chemistry together, and are never not-believable in their respective characters’ skins. Their screen charisma – both when together or separate – imbues Rye Lane with an immense amount of goodwill. More than enough to forgive occasional detours into material that might’ve felt more at home on a BBC Three skit show.

These dashes of A-level drama-esque fourth-wall-busting phenomena are mainly front-loaded, cropping up whenever Dom or Yas digress into anecdotes as they share relationship war stories. They’re not unwelcome per se, but they do feel as though they come from a lesser movie. The overarching good news is that they’re the exception to the rule, surrounded by abundantly more engrossing material. Rye Lane is at its best when it forgets about it’s audience altogether, allowing us to remain tacit voyeurs to a riotous day’s journey.

Dom’s preoccupation with his recent past may be the more overt, but Yas has arguably suffered the greater loss; her copy of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, which the two of them strive to extricate from her ex’s flat. It’s just enough of an excuse to get these two into a series of scrapes that are mined for both comedy and their potential to reflect a modern, working-class reality; one of barbecues, karaoke bars and harshly fluorescent takeaway joints.

On the subject of lighting, however, the above example is another exception to the rule. In the main Rye Lane looks gorgeous and Olan Collardy joins a happily growing list of cinematographers showing off just how well Black actors can be lit for our cinema screens. Jonsson and Oparah are flattered repeatedly, and a significant portion of the film’s charms are in it’s energised appearance, be that when it’s honestly reflecting South London’s microclimates, or when it’s dipping into deep hued detours of fantasy or memory (or combinations of the two).

I’m gonna be honest here. The very thought of a British romcom ordinarily fills me with eye-rolling dread. As a native of these isles, I’m frequently embarrassed by the twee tropes of our often-limited cinema (this weekend’s other significant release, Allelujah, looks too mawkish to contemplate). Our romcoms tend to be as toe-curling as any other genre, so even Rye Lane‘s bright and bubbly trailer had me approaching with caution. It was really only the incredibly strong word-of-mouth from critics that persuaded me to part with a portion of my afternoon. I am infinitely glad that I did. I expected something as earnestly progressive and approval-hungry as Netflix’s (hugely fun) Sex Education. What I got hews closer to the shot-in-the-arm immediacy of Sean Baker circa Tangerine; a brash, too-brief whirlwind both indebted to genre and appealingly loose of it. As a result, this is one I’d happily recommend to all-comers. And if you’re a sceptic, know that Rye Lane is easily convincing. It welcomes all with open arms.

Expect copies of The Low End Theory on vinyl to suddenly be in short supply.

8 of 10

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