By Greg Carlson
Available on Hulu following a world premiere at Sundance and a spring release date in the U.K., director Raine Allen-Miller’s feature debut “Rye Lane” is an ebullient drop of sunshine with more than enough charm to match its fresh and earnest spin on the romantic comedy. Even the rom-com averse will find plenty to like in the story of a meet-cute (or, given the initial sobbing, meet-pitiful) between two twenty-something Londoners reeling from bad break-ups. The title announces the real-life location that will, via the southside districts of Peckham and Brixton, operate as a character while Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson) follow in the cinematic footsteps of role models like Celine and Jessie in the Vienna of “Before Sunrise.”
Unlike Linklater’s classic, “Rye Lane” skips the ticking-clock urgency of a looming flight in favor of a more casual walk-and-talk that unfolds over the course of several increasingly eventful hours. But Allen-Miller’s eye and ear for flirtatious banter (scripted by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia) and the chemistry between Oparah and Jonsson are often as exhilarating as the best interactions first brought to life by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in 1995. I love Meagan Jordan’s spot-on note that “Whereas F. Gary Gray’s ‘Friday’was a comedy about a day that gets progressively worse, ‘Rye Lane’is about a day that gets continuously better, if not funnier and more loving … “
Urination – much less gross than it sounds – bookends the movie. The finale is a hilarious outtake that revels in the limits of a low-budget (and low-angle) special effect, but the inaugural instance refers to the interruption of Yas’s relief by Dom’s vocal sobs in a nearby bathroom stall at an art show opening. Outside the restroom, small talk leads to more conversation. And just like that, “Rye Lane” starts to spark with electrical current that has us yearning for a reason – any reason – to keep these two together so we can discover where things might go. Like Clementine accepting a ride from Joel after a moment of hesitation in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or the “lifetime sidewalk” talk of Christine and Richard in “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” curiosity and possibility fuel the characters and their viewers.
Alongside that curiosity is an equally important ingredient: vulnerability. During the movie, Yas and Dom will open up to each other in unexpected ways. Allen-Miller exploits the inversion of the historically more common film dynamic in which boy pursues girl. Yas embraces her extroverted impulsiveness by role-playing the part of new girlfriend when Dom meets up to clear the air with his ex Gia (Karene Peter), who cheated with and is now dating Dom’s best friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni). Later, the introverted and apprehensive Dom will surprise Yas by mustering the courage to help liberate her copy of “The Low End Theory” from the pretentious Jules (Malcolm Atobrah).
And speaking of music, “Rye Lane” is an aural treat. Complementing the fluid camerawork and vibrant production and costume design, the film’s original score by Kwes makes up for the absence of several cost-prohibitive needle-drops referenced in the story. Allen-Miller’s workarounds include delightful diegetic renditions of “Sign Your Name” (at a backyard party where Dom’s weepy playlist is exposed) and “Shoop” (at an epic karaoke night that brings our potential lovers closer together). The result is another layer of knowing craftsmanship, which “Rye Lane” has in abundant supply.
September 24th 2023
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