RYE LANE (Sundance FF 2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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Searchlight Pictures is missing a great opportunity by waiting until March to release Brit rom-com Rye Lane. This film is perfect viewing for Valentine’s Day, and sadly those in search of a charming romance to watch on the 14th will not even know what they’re missing. First-time feature director Raine Allen-Miller centers Black love in this color-drenched, Peckham-centric charmer that makes the South London neighborhood as much a lead character as the two who fall for each other on its streets.

Rye Lane is an extended meet-cute largely in real-time a la Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, in which Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) fall in love in one lucky, lovely, crazy day, during which they reveal the best and worst of themselves to each other. The story starts with a pan from above, showing multiple bathroom stalls and the various goings-on within them, then focuses in on Dom, loudly crying his heart out over a break-up. When Yas overhears him, she asks if he’s ok, much to Dom’s embarrassment and chagrin, who just wants to be alone. Shortly after, at a hilariously pretentious gallery opening, she asks again if he’s ok after recognizing his converse kicks. The exchange charges both of them, and they become fast friends. Dom shares the details of his breakup, in which his girlfriend cheated with his best friend, and reveals to Yas he’s headed to a lunch with them. Though he declines her offer of going with him, she breaks in on the meeting at the perfect moment, pretending to be his new babe. Dom and Yas spend the rest of the day together, getting into trouble, revealing themselves, not revealing themselves, pushing each other’s buttons, taking risks, and falling hard for each other. Through it all, these two characters are impossible not to like, both individually and as a couple.

The flashbacks that are shown, often from a very subjective point of view, and the moments of magical thinking that translate to reality, give Allen-Miller creative opportunities to use the visual palette and editing to best advantage. She works beautifully with her collaborators, which include DP Alan Collardy, production designer Anna Rhodes, editor Victoria Boydell, and composer Kwes, to keep the film artistically cohesive,

Jonsson and Oparah have great chemistry, using their dialogue to play with each other as if it’s sport, rapidly volleying back and forth. They’re clearly having great fun in the process, which draws the audience into their physical adventure and emotional journey. Yas, as written by screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, borders on Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, especially as Dom undergoes such a strong character arc through her influence. Still, she does have her own powerful wants and goals that, in turn, Dom inspires her to go after with more fearlessness. There are a lot of other ways that Yas subverts the usual rom-com tropes, which make the story, and Oparah’s role in its believability, all the more memorable.

There’s so much fun and joy to be had in Rye Lane, it makes me grateful not EVERYONE has kicked the rom-com genre to the curb. Lovers may have to watch the same old flicks this February 14th, but at least they’ll have something to look forward to in March!

4 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.