The term “romantic-comedy” brings to mind formulaic plots, worn out cliches, and artificial sentiment. That’s because so many rom-coms are content to adhere to the standard template. They switch out actors and modify the specifics (character names, occupations, etc.) but go through the machinations every viewer is quite familiar with. Yes, the template can always be executed well. Getting a rom-com with a fresh story and a new perspective is a thrill, though. Rye Lane is just such a film, creating a genuine romantic spirit and earning authentic laughs by daring to forge its own path.
When we first meet Dom (David Jonsson), he’s crying in a gender-neutral bathroom at an art exhibit. Yas (Vivian Oparah) hears him from the next stall and offers comfort. They meet face-to-face outside the bathroom. He’s just broken up with his girlfriend, who cheated on him with his best friend. She’s newly single, too, having dumped a no-good boyfriend. The two walk and talk through London’s Rye Lane Market, commiserating about their romantic misery.
Time comes to say goodbye. Dom is prepared to bid his new acquaintance adieu. Yas has a different idea, crashing the dinner meeting he has planned with his ex and his bestie. She hilariously instigates a little post-breakup revenge on his behalf. Before long, the two start forming a connection that finds them revealing their innermost feelings, being silly together, and hatching a plot for more revenge by breaking into her artist ex-boyfriend’s flat. The movie shows that Dom and Yas are clearly a match. Whether they can get past their respective issues to accept this fact is where the suspense comes in.
Rye Lane does not look or play like any other rom-com. In her feature debut, director Raine Allen-Miller uses a lot of stylistic techniques to tell the story. She occasionally shoots at a low angle to look up at the central couple or utilizes a fisheye lens to warp the sides of the image and make Dom and Yas even more front-and-center. Backgrounds are filled with weird little details to notice – eccentric people, unusual objects, colorful graffiti, and so on. Cumulatively, these elements have the effect of making the whole film feel vibrant and alive. Rom-coms frequently choose a glamorous setting to do a portion of the heavy lifting. Ticket to Paradise and Shotgun Wedding are two recent examples. Allen-Miller goes a different route, taking a normal place and transforming it into something wondrous simply by emphasizing its uniqueness.
The absolute best part of the movie is the chemistry between the leads. David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah have enough charm to fill a football stadium. Getting invested in their characters becomes easy, due to how effortlessly the actors build an appealing rapport. They make emotional scenes touching and funny scenes uproarious. Part of the film’s aesthetic is to generate a tone just a notch or two above real life. The stars match that tone, without turning Dom and Yas into caricatures. You’ll fall in love with them, just as they start to fall for each other.
Rye Lane is sweet, truthful, and very, very funny. (Pay attention to the name of the guacamole stand where a famous actor appears for a cameo). Rom-coms don’t have to be vapid exercises. This is a movie about what it means to fully connect with another person with a power that surprises both parties. When it’s over, you don’t get those generic warm fuzzies, you get a sense of being enriched by having spent time watching two nice people form a special bond.
out of four
Rye Lane is rated R for language, some sexual content, and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 22 minutes.