Synopsis: Two twenty-somethings, both reeling from bad break-ups, connect over an eventful day in South London – helping each other deal with their nightmare exes and potentially restoring their faith in romance.
Stars: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Karene Peter, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Malcolm Atobrah, Alice Hewkin, Simon Manyonda, Poppy Allen-Quarmby
Director: Raine Allen Miller
Running Length: 82 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: There are a lot of things that rom-coms are these days. Brash, raunchy, hilarious, bold, unpredictable. Yet the one key ingredient missing, the main element that sets apart the classic romances made ‘back in the day,’ can be summed up in one word: sparkling. I know, the word seems almost too fluttery to pin down on a film description, but effervescent would be too airy a phrase, and bubbly is much too cute to describe it accurately. No, sparkling is what keeps the genuinely memorable films that have stood up to the passage of time near and dear to our hearts.
You’d be hard-pressed to get through all 82 minutes of Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane (from Searchlight Pictures, premiering on Hulu) and not get that sparkling tingle at one point or another. The film fits into all the adjectives I laid out above, but it caps itself off by harnessing the much sought-after component that allows comparison to titles with which it shares some DNA. Movies like Notting Hill or, more significantly, Richard Linklater’s 1995 unbeatable talky treasure, Before Sunrise.
At an art installation in South London, Dom (David Jonsson) isn’t dealing with his break-up with long-time girlfriend Gia (Karene Peter) well at all. In fact, budding costume designer Yas (Vivian Oparah) finds Dom in a bathroom stall crying over Gia. Her eventual efforts to cheer him up result in the two of them spending much of the day strolling around the city discussing their romantic entanglements. She’s also recently out of a relationship, and after helping Dom face Gia for the first time, she figures he can help her with some unfinished business with her ex.
The charm of Rye Lane comes with how the ‘meet-cute’ between Dom and Yas happens so unobtrusively but believably and continues from there. A lot of business has to happen quickly. Still, screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia give the leads fresh and funny dialogue, making it all feel like realistic developments throughout a one-of-a-kind day. The script gets the film off the ground easily, but Jonsson and especially Oparah make it soar with winning performances, helping viewers easily invest in their success as people first and a potential couple second.
Director Miller and cinematographer Olan Collardy give Rye Lane a distinct visual language. Like adjusting to a new dialect, the filming may take a little getting used to because of how Miller frames the actors, and the jarring way Collardy shoots close-ups. Compound that with a production design from Anna Rhodes that celebrates a different side of the city than audiences are used to taking in, a unique score created by Kwes, and forward-thinking costumes by Cynthia Lawrence-John, which jump out of the screen thanks to their color palette. The cast and crew are made up of mostly newer faces (save for one brilliantly engaged cameo – truly excellent), and you get the feeling you’re watching the start of special careers in the making.
Gems sparkle, and Rye Lane is a gem of a film. It’s an example of why you’d want to go back to a time when theaters were open and this would have had a chance at a wider release. I fear it may get swallowed up in the crowd of offerings on Hulu, especially with its release date on the last day of the month before an entirely new crop of releases gets added to the service. Hopefully, you (and others) will walk down this street because Rye Lane is a brisk, lovely place to travel.