After recently suffering through the miserable What’s Love Got To Do With It, which couldn’t even get the basic geography of its home city right, what a joyous balm it is to watch a London romcom that actually *loves* London. Of course, Raine Allen-Miller’s wonderful debut film Rye Lane has plenty more to offer than just a sense of amusing, cosy familiarity to residents of South London, but it’s this commitment to its location that forms the backbone of just why this Peckham and Brixton-set spin on the Before Sunrise format feels just so real.
As with Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic, Rye Lane mostly revolves around an ambling, day-long stroll and conversation between two strangers who find themselves falling in love across the hours. In this case, the pair is Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), who meet by chance in the unisex bathrooms of a gallery opening hosted by a mutual friend. Yas catches Dom weeping in a stall about his recent break-up and, charmed by his openness and newly single herself, decides to ride out the afternoon and evening with him.
Along the way, of course, they get into scrapes and capers, whether that’s Yas crashing Dom’s ‘moving on lunch’ with his unfaithful ex Gia (Karene Peter) and her dimbulb new man Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, absolutely hilarious) or an excruciating performance at a hip-hop karaoke club. Their dynamic is tried-and-true opposites attract, Yas’s explosive confidence playing off wonderfully against Dom’s more retiring and self-deprecating nature, and Jonsson and Oparah have the kind of chemistry that most romcom leads would just kill for.
Each of them gives a star-making performance, and Allen-Miller shoots them beautifully – their smiles in closeup are infectious and they’re always surrounded by gorgeous pops of colour. Rye Lane has no interest in the typically grey Serious London colour palette of shows like Industry or Top Boy, instead harking back to the sunny warmth of classic Richard Curtis (though the cast here is a lot more realistically diverse than you’d see in the likes of Notting Hill). Pinks, blues, greens, and yellows fill the screen, while dream sequences and flashbacks are pulled off with a great sense of ambition and flair, Dom and Yas’s recollections turning their lives into a stage show in which they get to be the stars.
It’s in this Curtis-verse inspiration that Rye Lane finds a lot of its brightest spots. It takes two galactically charming lead performers and giving them a lot of funny and romantic things to say, with Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script packed with proper laughs. If this commitment to formula does, just a little, start tripping the film up towards the end as the gags dry up in favour of obligatory plotty drama, it’s hardly a big problem, the warmth and goodwill of what’s come before, not to mention the excellent cast, easily seeing you through.
Rye Lane packs a lot into its brisk, breezy, and bright runtime (barely getting past 80 minutes), keeping a bouncy energy up throughout that is bolstered by a series of tremendously enjoyable cameos (and one slightly distracting one) – at one point, the whole thing even seems to be about to break into a musical number. Yet, when it needs to slow down, that’s no trouble either, thanks to a core couple that really do feel like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reincarnated in Peckham. With superb work being put in by a squadron of young talents in front of and behind the camera, what a calling card this is for all involved.