Rye Lane is like a tsunami, violently clearing the cobwebs off a stale genre struggling for its place in the 2020s, energising the formula with a gusto that is infectious, if a little unwieldy.
A tale of modern 20-something romance, Rye Lane pivots on Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson), whose bond is formed in the shadow of their recent, respective, ugly breakups. The two characters are, on the surface, polar opposites. Yas, an aspiring costume designer, inhabits the artistic disposition with an appropriate degree of chaotic whim, spending much of the film dragging Dom, an accountant with the reserved reticence of a mild-mannered numbers man, around south London, looking for a way to break into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment to retrieve her copy of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory.
Debut director Raine Allen-Miller consciously places Rye Lane in a genre tradition. A burrito kiosk named “Love Guactually” makes an appearance, manned by a certain rom-com veteran clearly not wanting to be left out of the “best cameo by an ex-rom-com heartthrob of the last six months” stakes, perhaps the only misstep in the director’s warmly authentic realisation of working class, post-gentrification south London. But, in many ways, the film feels like an anti-Richard Curtis manifesto, and all the whitewashing, inauthentic milieus, and seamless engineering of his 1990s and 2000s classics. Peckham and Brixton are instead painted with vibrantly audacious strokes, full of colour and adventurous camera work. At times, cinematographer Olan Collardy’s lens bends and twists the city’s boroughs into a fantastical mushroom trip, almost adjacent to reality. Its style and offbeat tone are somewhat reminiscent of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, but with the communal heart of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing as its nucleus.
Yas and Dom’s chance meeting at a mutual friend’s art exhibition vividly calls to mind Edgar Wright’s Spaced, not a mighty stretch at all when considering that Rye Lane often exudes the texture of a Channel 4 sitcom. The bold flair of Allen-Miller’s direction does sometimes nudge the experience into one of unevenness, and the excellent, finely tuned central performances of Oparah and Jonsson are called up to do the heavy lifting, keeping the emotional spine of the story tight and upright throughout. It’s a directorial debut, however, which sharply marks out Allen-Miller as a singular voice reshaping a genre that feels perpetually frozen in time.
Rye Lane is released nationwide on 17th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Rye Lane here: