‘Rye Lane’ Review: Rom-Com Brings Together ‘Before Sunrise’ and Richard Curtis

Sundance: Raine Allen-Miller’s debut game reinforces genre tropes with fresh leads, a wonderful sense of place, and fun to spare.


While the rom-com is still gasping for air at the box office, the Sundance Film Festival has become a reliable source for small, signature entries in the genre, from “Obvious Child” to “Palm Springs.” This year, the festival line-up creates the delightful ‘Rye Lane’, which starts with a simple premise and infuses it with warm performances and a definite sense of place.

In Raine Allen-Miller’s feature debut, the two lovebirds first meet in a bathroom at an art show — she’s sobbing — and set about taking responsibility and discussing her own heartbreak. At just 82 minutes, Allen-Miller’s film is short, but brimming with affection for his characters and their place in the world, the South London neighborhood of Peckham.

Watching the film, audiences will long for Allen-Miller’s heroes to meet, but they’ll probably also long for the burritos they’ve eaten and be itching to have some pints and chips with them. It’s both a spirited introduction to a corner of the city that at least this American knew little about, and a calling card for an up-and-coming director who knows that the story of two people falling for each other needs to be as visually appealing as anything else. in the theaters.

Dom (David Jonsson, from “Industry”) is reeling from his breakup with his old girlfriend when Yas (Vivian Oparah) hears the whimpering. The script, written by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, frames these two as a traditional odd couple: while Dom backs away from confrontation, Yas dives headfirst into it. He is an accountant. She is a costume designer. Can I make it more obvious?

A conversation at their silly mutual friend’s gallery show spills out onto the street, where Dom explains that he’s about to meet his ex, who happened to be cheating on him with his best friend since childhood. Despite Dom initially rejecting his offer to protect himself, Yas crashes the awkward lunch and poses as his new fling. Suddenly and briefly freed from his heartache, Dom begins to pick up on Yas’ more carefree attitude to life as their terror drags on into the night and they find themselves crashing a party, breaking and entering, and karaoke to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop”.

Even with all of Dom’s neuroses, Jonsson projects an ease on screen that makes for an engaging romantic lead. His lowered eyes creep up on you with an understated charm that contrasts with the whirlwind of charisma that Oparah unleashes. Yas uses his own confidence to mask the insecurities Dom wears on his sleeve, and Oparah weaves her character’s seductive freedom with her own wounds to hugely satisfying effect. At a seductive pace, he takes a new pair of shoes out of the sale bin and immediately throws away the one he’s wearing.

The performances are augmented by Allen-Miller’s stylistic flourishes, which include fisheye shots, close-ups, and extended flashbacks where the characters observe their past misadventures. Allen-Miller fills every frame with opulent color. Some of them come from the landscape of Peckham – the bright green of the park grass or the multi-coloured graffiti on the street or the painted doors of shops in Rye Lane Market – but some are purely his own invention. The karaoke series is a mix of neon greens, pinks and purples.

And while the plot may seem a bit light, Allen-Miller’s energetic approach to filming Dom and Yas’ adventures makes up for what the narrative lacks. Bryon and Melia’s dialogue is natural and engaging, but as “Rye Lane” draws to a close, the stakes sometimes feel awfully low.

“Before Sunrise” is an obvious influence on “Rye Lane” as it mimics the whirlwind dating events of Richard Linklater’s beloved classic. However, I detect, if not a complete rebuke, a sort of response to another Richard: Richard Curtis. Written by Curtis, “Notting Hill” takes its title from a gentrified neighborhood in London and serves as the backdrop for white people romancing white friends.

“Rye Lane” highlights the excitingly diverse population of its setting and focuses on black love. And if you need more proof that Curtis’s DNA exists, check out this quick rant from one of his regulars, which I won’t spoil here. This unnamed person is the only major star in the film, so here’s hoping he finds an audience when the film debuts via Searchlight on Hulu later this spring. Allen-Miller and his cast are more than worthy of attention.

grade: A-

“Rye Lane” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures will release it on Hulu streaming on March 31st.

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