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Movie Reviews

Rye Lane ★★★★



Director: Raine Allen-Miller

Cast: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

Rye Lane is that effervescent, colourful Londoner’s version of Before Sunrise, revitalising the walk, talk and fall-in-love genre of rom-coms. Its reputation precedes it with good reason; Rye Lane oozes joy and love – namely black love and that of South London – to be that feel-good film providing food for the soul. Rye Lane has perfect ingredients, likeable characters, youthful energy and genuine laugh-out-loud moments, as an endearing standout British film.

Part of the beauty of Rye Lane is its simplicity which provides that opportunity to soak up the milieu and fall in love with Dom (David Jonsson of Industry fame) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) throughout their chance meeting as they lament about their exes and Dom prepares for a meeting with his ex. The film also showcases a love of art and the creative industries found within South London. Several artists appear in Rye Lane; Dom and Yas’ paths collide at gallery exhibition openings by mutual friends, and there’s a friend called Picasso too, emphasising director Raine Allen-Miller’s decision to weave the arts into the heart of the film. Rye Lane further distinguishes itself from the average rom-com as Dom and Yas’ meet-cute, which is very colourful and artistic, occurs within a unisex bathroom of all places!

Rye Lane’s journey traverses its eponymous street and encapsulates that community spirit with the vibrancy of a market and the residents. The film doesn’t lose a beat, with a razor-sharp script and a pervading rhythmic feel akin to a dance. The London-style banter between Dom and Yas has a unique charm, and it is a treat that the film takes its time so that the richness of their banter can be appreciated. The long angles assist with this slow approach as Dom and Yas get to know each other over a day, thus allowing the audience to become equally enamoured with their dynamics.

Rye Lane takes its audience along this journey that naturally transitions day to night, and the interaction between Dom and Yas feels so natural to observe. The dialogue, whilst witty, also explores heartbreak and imposter syndrome and is a successful exercise in ‘show, don’t tell’ as it portrays the Caribbean Londoner’s experience. The film depicts that family Sunday gathering as Dom and Yas stumbles into a family BBQ as their day progresses. Allen-Miller’s enthusiasm is unparalleled as the Dunn’s Island seasoning, Red Stripe beer, overproof rum, and that energetic playlist are in place. It’s a case of ‘if you know, you know’ as Allen-Miller doesn’t provide any exposition describing the scenario. Such a scene will, however, induce that longing to be part of such a convivial environment. It is a scene reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock with that slow unveiling of the love of food and appreciation of the mood and energy within a Caribbean gathering.

As such, Rye Lane depicts a rarely seen perspective of South London brimming with positivity, making the areas of Peckham and Brixton characters in their own right. It is this emphasis, whilst Dom and Jas walk and blossom from friends to lovers, that also promotes the film’s exuberance. The chemistry between the characters is also intoxicating as they bounce off each other and naturally create an unbeatable team to combat adversity, which is a delight to behold. A hip hop karaoke battle scene is particularly amusing and illustrates Rye Lane’s different directorial choices. Allen–Miller decides to inject more humour rather than relying on saccharine romantic tropes, which is refreshing. Rye Lane continues to surprise with its fun trajectory. Allen-Miller has successfully eschewed negative connotations very often depicted within black-led films set in London but still provides a grounded experience. Rye Lane is a fresh, inspiring directorial debut showcasing Allen-Miller’s ability to deliver a gripping, optimistic tale.

Rye Lane shows there is more to London-based black films than depicting drugs and gang lifestyles. It encourages us to appreciate the colours and beauty of our London surroundings. Rye Lane would also operate well as a musical and may inevitably draw comparisons to the London-based musical film, Been So Long, starring Michaela Cole. Overall, Rye Lane conveys confidence to live in the present and be open to chance encounters. Rye Lane is a beautiful film that underlines the necessity for big gestures to get more than words. Rye Lane may be Allen-Miller’s big gesture as a debut that will educate and impress with a resounding soundtrack. Expect a surge in sales of Tribe Called Quest albums after an appearance in the film, highlighting Rye Lane’s appeal as a film that will leave audiences smiling from start to finish.

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