In a fast-moving society filled with choices and variety, our standards as consumers have risen. We expect more from everything, be it new restaurants, household products, or our entertainment. It’s been a minute since a romantic comedy has entered the fold so unassumingly humble despite harboring more than meets the eye. Consider Raine Allen-Miller’s feature directorial debut Rye Lane a quiet effort to raise the standards of the modern romance flick.
Set over the course of a gorgeous day in South London, the film opens with Yas (Vivian Oparah) discovering Dom (David Jonsson) sobbing in a gender-neutral bathroom at a local art exhibit. It’s a bit of an awkward meet-cute, with Dom reeling from a breakup, unable to compose himself in public, but the day is long and there are adventures to be had. With nothing but time on their hands, Dom and Yas spend the day together: they stroll through the city, break into an ex’s apartment, and sing karaoke.
Obviously, there’s more to this story. Dom is freshly out of a six-year relationship with Gia (Karene Peter), who left him for his ne’er-do-well best friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni). As a result, he’s become something of a recluse, moving back into his parents’ home where he plays video games and lives off his mother’s boiled eggs and bread. Similarly, Yas recently left her ex-boyfriend (Malcolm Atobrah), a pompous-ass artist. Yas’ freewheeling spirit and her ex’s cynical nature makes you wonder what they ever saw in one another in the first place. Now, he holds her vinyl copy of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory hostage — cue the breaking and entering situation.
Allen-Miller’s film assumes the quality of its loose plotting. It has all the inherent breeziness and charm of a walk through a cozy locale, and both Dom and Yas are more than worthwhile company. Rye Lane has a lot in common with Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, specifically in the way it pulls the pair’s thoughtful discussions into the foreground whilst coloring these two characters as individuals with depth and history. This isn’t a story about two people who were meant for one another. This is a story of two people, driven yet wounded, functional yet scarred, with layers they’re not afraid to reveal.
Making the film burst with energy is Olan Collardy’s cinematography. Rye Lane has a lot in common with Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing insofar that it makes South London a colorful, dynamic character. In many of the same ways Lee made the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant a force unto itself, Allen-Miller and Collardy curate psychedelic visuals, pop art stylings, and unconventional camera angles in a way that adds personality. I was particularly struck by how Allen-Miller incorporates flashbacks. Consider when Yas tells Dom the story of how her and her ex broke up. We are transported back in time to the specific moment, however, it’s conducted like a movie, with an audience of a few dozen “Doms” watching the evening unfold in an auditorium, each one reacting in a different way. It’s one of the ways Rye Lane subverts both predictability and structure.
This vibrant, kinetic presentation encourages us to lean forward and revel in the beauty that often stems from two well-matched individuals meeting. Further livening up the screen is a soundtrack aided by both nostalgic classics (Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop“, A Tribe Called Quest’s “Buggin Out“) and contemporary tracks (a couple from English singer-songwriter Sampha).
Rye Lane might get aggressively cute at times, either due to its propensity to be different with its Gen Z presentation or its perfunctory moments of schmaltz, but it’s kept buoyant thanks to its emotional honesty and the strengths of Jonsson and Oparah as performers. Raine Allen-Miller asserts herself as an engaging new voice, with an ability not only to tap into the contemporary young adult but also command their attention in a world filled with distractions.
NOTE: Rye Lane is now streaming on Hulu.
Starring: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Simon Manyonda, Karene Peter, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, and Malcolm Atobrah. Directed by: Raine Allen-Miller.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!