The Plot: Peckham, south-east London. At an art gallery exhibition run by a friend, Dom (David Jonsson) is grieving the break-up of his relationship to Gia (Karene Peter). Not for too long. He bumps into the lively Yas (Vivian Oparah) and they spark up a connection over their shared experiences – Yas is also on the rebound. However, that’s not going to stop them enjoying each other’s company over an eventful day as they take in all the local neighbourhood has to offer…
The Verdict: Flying in somewhat under the radar but perhaps all the better for it is Rye Lane, a small but charming British film that marks the directorial debut of Raine Allen-Miller. With a nod to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, it’s of the sub-genre of romcoms that involves characters walking, talking and connecting through witty, well-written dialogue that clearly defines the characters and their place in the surrounding urban environment over one day. Though, romcom is too conventional a description for this film. It knowingly plays into the tropes of the genre and then gently subverts it with its spikiness and offbeat humour which makes it a more appealing proposition than your standard cookie-cutter romcom. It also depicts a multicultural part of London seldom seen on-screen, along with a stopover in David Bowie’s former stomping ground of Brixton.
Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script tracks Dom and Yas as they meet-cute over an art exhibition that gently pokes fun at the pretentiousness of the art world at times (there’s more of it later on for amusing extra effect). Dom is an accountant with dreams of a life less ordinary, while Yas is an aspiring costume designer with her own distinctive fashion sense. He’s withdrawn and a bit mopey, she’s a livewire without an off switch but with a firm sense of youthful fun. They are wildly contrasting characters, but it’s the way that actors David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah portray them that makes them instantly likeable. There’s nothing so simple and effective as the power of human connection onscreen and the actors work really well together to make that bond credible. They hang around the Rye Lane market with its quirky characters, go to the cinema, do a rap at a club, have an embarrassing encounter with some relatives and have super-awkward exchanges with exes before turning the tables on them.
Though, it’s worth pointing out that on page at least, Yas veers close to being a so-called manic pixie dream girl – a term that nowadays indicates lazy scriptwriting. It’s to the credit of Oparah that she steers her performance as Yas away from this movie trope to being a character who is more fully formed in her own right. She’s made mistakes yes, but she’s not defined by them. She also has agency in the plot, which responds well with Jonsson’s own character arc. That arc is a little rough around the edges, but it’s part of the film’s scrappy charm along with the rat-a-tat dialogue which has an authentic, lived-in quality straight from London street life. The humour in the film is also sharp and frequently hilarious, with Allen-Miller capturing the small details of daily life and making them more impactful on the narrative. There’s a lot to admire here in this short and sweet film that doesn’t overstay its welcome and instead invests that time wisely in the lead characters. Wander down Rye Lane and it might just charm you.
Rating: 3. 5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Short and sweet
Rye Lane (UK / 15A / 82 mins)
In short: Short and sweet
Directed by Raine Allen-Miller.
Starring David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Karene Peter, Simon Manyonda.