Rye Lane is a fresh, innovative romantic comedy, giving a much needed second wind to the dated genre.
Rye Lane, directed by Raine Allen-Miller, and written by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, becomes a delightfully charming insight into a budding love set in Peckham with leads Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson, who between the pair, and the crew’s talent, provides a remarkable modernity.
Though this film is Allen-Miller, Bryon and Melia’s first foray into feature-length comedy, it’s contemporary affair revitalises an otherwise stagnant genre.
Cinamore spoke with writer Nathan Bryon last year in part about Rye Lane, and where he expressed it to me as “black joy. It’s black love” it couldn’t have been a more apt summary.
Opening on the beginning of a meet-cute in a unisex bathroom stall, Dom (Jonsson) stifles tears over a recent breakup, wailing out, as cinematographer Olan Collardy offers a poetic birds’ eye view of numerous stalls in the Peckham area, each providing a potential root for a story.
Settling on Dom, the camera introduces Yas (Oparah) in the adjacent stall, whose extroverted, charismatic humorous character befriends Dom acting as both therapist and distraction.
What begins as Yas gate-crashing a meal with Dom and his ex, under the guise of being his now-girlfriend, Yas entices Dom to break free from his self-made shackles, stretching out the day into a hilarious example of a script being insanely polished yet feeling impromptu, knowing its own identity as part of the romantic-comedy genre.
Even by featuring a bewildering cameo from a rom-com legend, the film establishes that it understands its identity, tropes, and how it needs to come together to provide a cathartic resolution becoming the first postmodernist romantic comedy that makes embracing identity critical to the story that Allen-Miller weaves.
It is worth highlighting that whilst the film is about identity, at no point is the politics of race brought into the discussion. While other films featuring two black leads may have introduced an oppressive undertone, Rye Lane celebrates black culture and the broader stories as part of this, often shooting the film with a panoramic fish-eyed lens, opening up the scene, and inviting us to explore the edges of the frame.
Equally, telling the story over its tight runtime of under an hour and a half makes the quick-cutting story feel as precise as it deserves. Intercutting between flashbacks, the story extends beyond the laissez-faire day Dom and Yas share. Though the flashbacks primarily serve as an expository backstory, they also interact with the linear present tense.
A specific flashback takes place in Peckhamplex Cinema, and when the device ends, returning the pair to the present time, Yas is still holding the same popcorn bucket from her recalled flashback.
Attention to detail throughout is perfect. Whether it be a moment Yas tries on vibrant shoes, wearing them in the next scene, or a child background actor wearing an orange jumpsuit and glasses akin to Nathan Bryon’s award-winning Look Up! series, there are countless pieces scattered throughout Rye Lane that showcase the respect the filmmakers had to their film, to each other, and to its setting in Peckham.
My only gripe is, unfortunately, in its casting. Whilst Vivian Oparah excels as Yas, the differential between her and Jonsson’s Dom can be noticeable, creating a slightly disparate relationship between the two.
Oparah’s delivery as Yas is instantly likeable; her ability to win over audiences by perfectly capturing her character’s interests, vices and burdens is a testament to her as a performer. Her previous role as Tanya in the cancelled Doctor Who spin-off Class was triumphant, especially in the vastly-underrated episode Nightvisiting. Seeing her given more extended screen time to showcase her talent was a welcome decision and an opportunity to flex her comedic timings.
Jonsson’s delivery didn’t quite match the vibe of where his character was meant to be at that point in the story. Two scenes of his stood out above the others as an outstanding performance to partner Oparah’s charming lead: a celebratory dance outside of a restaurant, and the second, an interaction with Levi Roots’ character in a back garden party.
Rye Lane‘s modern synth soundtrack by Kwes, colourful kaleidoscopic production design, cinematography and the polished plot is a festival of life, attempting to do what Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill did for its North London counterpart.
As Nathan told Cinamore, “I hope when people see Rye Lane, they feel love.” The grin that spread from ear to ear as the credits rolled undoubtedly proved him right.
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