‘Rye Lane’ review: Lovable losers rom-com is a total winner
Out of Sundance 2023, Rye Lane shined bright, becoming one of our faves out of the prestigious fest. In her feature directorial debut, Raine Allen-Miller brings scads of style and astounding energy to a joyous and juicy tale of lovable losers who find romantic redemption in South London. Not only does it boast charming lead performances by David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah, but this cheeky romantic comedy also contains what Mashable UK Editor Shannon Connellan called “the greatest scene of re-meeting an ex in cinema history.”
Now coming to Hulu, Rye Lane demands to be added to your watch list.
Rye Lane pays tribute to romantic comedies, while gleefully subverting them.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
Like many a rom-com that’s come before, Rye Lane is set in a bustling city, where two total opposites fall in love thanks to happenstance and eventual open-heartedness. However, the screenplay from Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia plays with breezy tropes by turning a meet-cute into a meet-cringe. Rather than an adorable “how we met” anecdote that’ll thrill dinner party guests, Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson) meet in the toilets, where he is sobbing loudly over a devastating breakup. From there, it’s not so much sparks that fly as an uncomfortable series of embarrassments, like trying to part ways on the street — only to discover you’re headed in the same direction. The horror!
Thankfully, Yas is a garrulous extrovert who refuses to recognize an awkward pause, barreling right through to probe for trauma dumps. Though meek and shy, Dom can’t resist the warmth of the spotlight she shines on him, and so the two stumble into an accidental date that’ll trek around South London, specifically the eponymous neighborhood of Rye Lane. Along the way, there will be rom-com requisites like bouncy banter, painfully hip romantic rivals, grand gestures, and outrageous shenanigans. There’s even a clever cameo, alluding to perhaps the most iconic London-set rom-com, Love Actually. But amid all this, Rye Lane pushes for something more surreal and strange, making it thrillingly unique.
When recounting bad breakups or early childhood ambitions, Allen-Miller doesn’t just shoot a bog-standard walk-and-talk or a cozy coffee shop conversation. Instead, Rye Lane crash-lands audiences into fourth wall-breaking flashbacks wherein modern-day Dom and Yas burst in like the Ghosts of Christmas Past to snoop about and ask probing questions. So, Yas’s story about hummus and giving head is staged like a theatrical production, with an audience full of Doms cheers her on. This device thrusts us not only into the perspectives of our lovestruck duo by welcoming us into memories and revenge fantasies but also electrifyingly illustrates their connection. They could be heroes for each other — if they could just get out of their own heads!
Rye Lane comes alive with color.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
The immersiveness of this enthralling rom-com doesn’t stop with these mind plunges. Allen-Miller captures Rye Lane and its assortment of shops, street art, and eccentric characters with such passion and detail that you can almost smell the burritos baking or reach out and touch the fresh produce glistening in the brightly painted stalls. As Dom and Yas stroll by shops, bus stops, or playgrounds, every sequence is popping with color and motion.
Cinematography sweeps around these could-be lovers with an energy that nods to Allen-Miller’s background helming colorful commercials(Opens in a new tab). Low angles play up the juicy intensity when exes collide. But most effective is how cinematographer Olan Collardy employs a first-person perspective for pivotal interactions. Like the riotous hit sitcom Peep Show, POV shots pitch us into the pastel-colored sneakers of Dom and Yas, allowing us the take part in the delicious anxiety of first flirtations.
As to color: Teal, sunflower yellow, flamingo pink, and bright red explode from costumes, murals, and awnings. In the background, a pair of dancing children’s clothes reflect the wall art behind them, as if they’d sprung to life from the art itself. Elsewhere, a shirtless, pot-bellied man protrudes from a window, overlooking his garden, lost in thought. A wannabe cowboy glistens in glitter from head to toe, quipping and tipping his wide-brimmed hat. Across it all, music bobs and weaves, bringing energy and joyous, uninhibited sing-alongs that tempt you to join in for the chorus at least.
The liveliness of the settings suggests that Rye Lane is not just a magical spot for Dom and Yas, but that we could follow anybody passing through and be welcomed into another warm and wonderful tale. That’s how alive this movie’s world feels.
Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson are beyond charming in Rye Lane.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
All these sensory splendors could be for nothing if it weren’t for the two leads whose hearts pump at the core of this radiant rom-com. Thankfully, Oparah and Jonsson are dynamite together, whether bickering or breaking into a karaoke duet for the ages.
Out the gate, Jonsson is faced with a hurdle: how to be a crushworthy rom-com hero when you begin weeping in a public restroom? Jonsson gamely plays the fool for love, but he shrewdly keeps Dom’s mopiness comical rather than morose. Within his trembling grin and cocked eyebrow, resilience flickers. The more he’s exposed to Yas’s boldness, the more Dom revives. Jonsson reflects this growth in a physicality that steadily shifts from cowering to confident. Dom may begin as a doormat — tromped on by love gone wrong — but by the mid-way, he’s stood up to be Yas’s partner in crime for a hilariously ill-concieved breaking-and-entering.
For her part, Oparah begins as bombastic, a human firework popping with brash pronouncements, jolting jokes, and bold moves that sometimes involve petty acts of vandalism involving a menstrual cup. However, as the date goes on, the cracks in Yas’s confident veneer begin to show. While Dom’s vulnerabilities make him soft, Yas’s hold sharp edges that lead to chaotic comedy with an undercurrent of self-doubt.
Overall, Rye Lane is a rhythmically bouncy romantic romp that keeps things fun even when running into the rougher corners of romance. A kickin’ soundtrack, vivid color palette, and lively setting blooming with detail add oomph to the film’s fun and enthralling attitude. Yet Oparah and Jonsson keep things from feeling one-note or too fluffy by lacing in the relatable cringe of heartache, jealousy, self-doubt, and fear of rejection. So when the stakes hit, they hit good and bracing, allowing us the space to yearn ahead of a finale that’s made for big, fat smiles.
Simply put. Rye Lane is a winsome delight, alive with color, verve, humor, and heart. If you love rom-coms, it’s essential viewing. And if you don’t, well, this gem might just change your mind.
Rye Lane is now streaming exclusively on Hulu. (Opens in a new tab)