Runtime: 82 minutes
Director: Raine Allen-Miller
Writers: Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia
Stars: Vivian Oparah, David Jonsson
By Calum Cooper
Raine Allen-Miller’s “Rye Lane” (2023) is as sincerely heartwarming as it is sharply funny. An idiosyncratic film that’s as playful as it is thematically rich, it’s jaw dropping that this is Allen-Miller’s feature debut. If her following films have even half the heart and humour of “Rye Lane” then she is going to have a stellar career.
Set in South London, the film follows two twenty-something strangers Yas and Dom (Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson respectively). After a chance meet up in which Yas finds Dom crying in a bathroom, the duo discover that both of them are reeling from break ups with their respective partners. They decide to spend the day together, roaming London, helping each other with their exes and potentially finding a kindred spark between themselves.
During the Q & A after the Glasgow Film Festival screening of the film, Allen-Miller voiced her reluctance to label the film a rom-com, even though it categorically is one. It’s an understandable hesitation as “Rye Lane” is not as straightforward as your typical London based rom-coms, be it “Notting Hill” (1999) or “Love Actually” (2003). Rather it plays along with its premise, pointing out the contradictions and hardships that come with romance, while simultaneously building towards a potentially romantic outcome. The results equate to something consistently funny as well as deceptively sweet.
The film has been described as a love letter to London, and it’s hard to argue with that. Shot on location in the South London areas of Peckham and Brixton, the film captures the eccentricities and delights of the area beautifully. Oftentimes scenes that consist primarily of dialogue between Yas and Dom have something else going on in the background or to the sides, be it a guy in cowboy getup selling merchandise or a child riding a bike and yelling at the top of his lungs. They’re small moments that could arguably be cut out, yet capture the nature of London wonderfully, while imbuing the setting with the same chaotic energy that Yas and Dom’s dynamic have.
““Rye Lane” plays like a comedic “Before Sunrise” (1995), a branding that Allen-Miller would probably argue against, but such a description really does capture the immaculate heart at the epicentre of this wonderful film.”
Even more playful is the film’s leaning into theatricality through its bright colours and imaginative production design. Sometimes, when Dom and Yas recall stories with their exes, the setting changes to cinema and theatre stages as if they’re physically recreating their messy breakups. It’s a very fun way to show off backstory and character personalities – one that takes excellent advantage of the cinematic medium. There’s even some sneaky cameo appearances that capture the film’s quirky nature – the best of which being a tongue-in-cheek reference and pun to “Love Actually”.
One of the film’s most distinct qualities is its use of a panoramic lens in the cinematography. Although the slight distortion of the screen at the sides seems like a questionable choice, it does a lot to not only get a wider sense of London’s constant buzz of life, but it helps to physically centre Yas and Dom in the film, as well as subconsciously bring attention to their own inner struggles. Both are dealing with anguished emotions but are masking them with comedic jabs at themselves and others. In that sense the use of panoramic cameras serves as an insight into these characters as much as an expanded view on the odd charms of London; something that stems from Allen-Miller’s evocative direction.
Anchoring all of this creative ingenuity is a wickedly smart script and two remarkably charismatic performances from Oparah and Jonsson. The dialogue is quick witted and often rapidfire in delivery. Every other line serves as a stinging question or insight into the trials and tribulations of romantic life, and how such things affect people like Dom and Yas similarly but differently. There’s a poignancy to the writing as much as humour, and the terrific chemistry between the leads is palpable. As their characters take on awful exes, vinyl hunting, flamboyant communities and bizarre artworks of mouths, Oparah and Jonsson work off of each other splendidly, with Oparah in particular conveying considerable depth and intricacies with mere facial expressions. Their performances are on the icing of a very flavourful movie cake.
“Rye Lane” plays like a comedic “Before Sunrise” (1995), a branding that Allen-Miller would probably argue against, but such a description really does capture the immaculate heart at the epicentre of this wonderful film. Fuelled by terrific performances, a clever script and an unquestionable love for the city it’s set in, its explorations on the nature of romance is as tender as its humour is titanic. This is a magnificent feature debut for Allen-Miller, one that will almost surely go down as one of 2023’s best comedies.