Rye Lane (2023) Movie Review – A genuinely moving, laugh-out-loud romcom

A genuinely moving, laugh-out-loud romcom

Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane is a compact yet deeply charming love story. Forming along a stroll through the titular South London market, this kind of single-day romance has been done before, most notably in Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking Before trilogy–but not quite like this. Miller’s unique directorial style captures the character of South London in a refreshingly funny manner, with ever a mind to the authenticity of people and place.

In the multicultural areas of Peckham and Brixton, Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) encounter each other in a meet that’s not-so-cute. After Yas, recovering from a breakup herself, overhears Dom crying in a bathroom stall over the girlfriend who dumped him, an unexpected spark of connection with the stranger propels her to walk him home. But home turns out to be anything but. From standing up to Dom’s ex to breaking and entering, their stroll turns into several mini adventures that reveal each other’s desire to live life fully and authentically.

The dynamic between the couple feels at first stereotypical of many romcoms. Yas’ quirky effervescence and spontaneity never falter as the cheery counterpart to Dom’s despondency. Yet Yas isn’t Dom’s “manic pixie dream girl”; she has too rich an inner life. Screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, in actuality, turn the stereotype–of a woman teaching a man how to experience joy–on its head. Their storyline rather has both characters looking past each other’s veneers of joy/depression to see the complexity of the real person underneath. 

It doesn’t hurt that Jonsson and Oparah’s chemistry and comic timing sparkle, but what I find most compelling about Dom and Yas’ developing relationship is that they invest in each other from the start. This is particularly seen in the directorial choice of Miller to place Dom within the stories Yas tells, and vice versa. When Dom recounts the discovery of being cheated on, Yas is right there with him in the retelling of the scene.

When Yas recalls the story of her epic breakup, dozens of Doms are there in another theater of their minds’ making, cheering on Yas of the past. To add to the enjoyment of this creative manner of storytelling, it’s so clear that the director and actors were in agreement that they wanted to have fun–and they’ll pull audiences along into this goal.

At its heart, Rye Lane is about two people who, healing from relationships that center on brand over substance, yearn for authenticity. The juxtaposition of that principal theme and the quirky, creative style of directing (Miller films a brightly exaggerated and stylized version of South London), rather than feel contradictory or fake, is entirely refreshing and real.

Miller creates a setting that’s more than a backdrop to Dom and Yas’ romance; it comes alive along with the romance right before our eyes. With the director’s signature use of a wide anamorphic lens, the city stretches around the central characters to give us a broader perspective of their surroundings. The camera’s wide lens shows Miller’s evident love for her own home. And although it’s stylized to be brighter and maybe a bit more bizarre, even this American viewer can recognize the humanity, reality, and charming character on display in every South London setting the romcom highlights. The setting and romance interact for some stunningly elevated storytelling with a strong sense of place.

It’s at the climactic moment in the film, where Dom and Yas fear they have lost that authentic spark (I won’t spoil the details), that Miller abandons the wide lens and the camera closes in on the couple. It’s a tighter, more uncomfortable, darker space than the film usually displays. We immediately miss the bright colors of Rye Lane and South London, in all its bustling personality.

Rye Lane shows us that this is what we lose when we fail to pay attention–to our most authentic selves, to the inner lives of others, and to the beauty in life. That’s what Dom and Yas give to each other, and what Miller gives us with the ingenuity of one of my favorite new romcoms.

  • Verdict - 10/10

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