Rye Lane – Review

“A cozy and endearing movie that takes great care to develop its central relationship.”

by Ken Bakely

Though vibrant, funny, and wildly charming, Raine Allen-Miller’s Rye Lane never loses sight of the simple human connection at its core. This is a refreshing romantic comedy that extracts its mileage from a kinetically-imagined world and fascinating characters, and everything comes to life with spark and verve. Set across a sunny day or two in South London, Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script excels when it simply follows its leads, as they gradually get to know each other while working themselves into a handful of eccentric situations. Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) first meet when she overhears him crying in the restrooms of an art museum. He’s an introspective, introverted accountant who longs for an uncomplicated life, but is shattered after he caught his girlfriend (Karene Peter) cheating on him with his best friend (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni), and lost both relationships as a result. She’s an up-and-coming costume designer, more extroverted and spontaneous, and has also just gotten out of a relationship. They both bond over their recent troubles, and when Dom agrees to an awkward dinner with his ex-partner and ex-friend, Yas makes a surprise appearance, posing as his new girlfriend to help him save face. From there, the two wander through exquisitely-realized local neighborhoods, learning about each other in all their shared experiences and contrasting worldviews, and growing ever closer, as their excursions take them to karaoke bars, perfectly named (and staffed, as a note-perfect cameo reveals) burrito stands, and more than a few surprises (of varying welcomeness) for them along the way.

And sure, the eventual destination will not surprise you as a viewer. You know exactly where this story will end up; you’ve seen this kind of movie before, and you probably have even seen the exact walk-and-talk romances that Rye Lane draws inspiration from. But frankly, I get tired when people fixate over plotting at the expense of everything else.  Do their lives have no room for the simple joys of experience? The one thing that a movie like this has to do is let its characters be, and this one does. It lets them talk, reflect, want, act, and react, without any expectation on their part about where they will end up. When so many other movies take to feeling like content, here’s one that feels inventive in service of telling a human story. There’s not an ounce of cynicism to this narrative, no feeling of self-consciously going through the motions. It is so clearly alive. In what is Allen-Miller’s debut feature, she and her crew adorn the scenery in splashy colors, picturesque locales, and extraordinary flourishes that deftly lift film above reality – alongside the hyperreal design of each setting, Dom and Yas recount their lives to each other in elaborately staged flashbacks, sometimes quite literally taking place on a theater’s stage. They’re living in a world that takes the finely-tuned fantasies of the genre and dials them up just a little bit more, to the point where they take over the visual palette in a more obvious way. But within the film’s well-realized parameters, all of this just makes intuitive sense. It’s just another way that it wins us over and draws us in.

In a less capable movie, it would have been daunting to sell these fantastical flights of a story that, for long stretches, is a simple two-hander. But Rye Lane pulls it off for the simple reason that it knows how to build the mood and fill out the texture, and once it knows how to present its setting, it keeps the focus on its characters. The script only falters when it leans a little too heavily on contrivances and developments in the second half that feel somewhat obligatory or even distracting on this front and, in the end, aren’t really necessary to get us to the ending that we’ve been waiting for. Because even with any possible misgivings aside, how could we be mad when we get to that swooning finale, especially when the journey has been so much fun? David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah are transfixing presences no matter what happens, exploring Dom and Yas’s differing personalities with depth and navigating a casually chaotic world with gentle ease – and most importantly, they have a warm and winsome chemistry. It’s their interactions that guide and shape this film, and we don’t need anything more than that. This is a cozy and endearing movie that takes great care to develop its central relationship. It thinks about who these two people are, what they want, what they’re showing, what they’re doing and why. But delicately constructed and presented in well under 90 minutes, it does so with a skilled, gracious touch.