GFF ’23 – ‘Rye Lane’ Heralds The Return Of The London Rom-Com

Still from Rye Lane

Among the many universally acknowledged truths of the rom-com genre, the importance of location – especially when it is a large, aspirational city – is one of the most lampooned. However, the verve and character of a city, when correctly applied, can elevate mediocre material and make inspired meet-cutes soar. Director Raine Allen-Miller understands this intuitively; her first feature Rye Lane is seeped in South London, filmed across its iconic parks, markets, and cinemas so that its local character is unmistakable. 

Against this backdrop, Yas (Vivian Oparah) first overhears Dom (David Jonsson) having what he thinks is a stealthy cry in the toilets after finding out his ex had been cheating several weeks prior. Exuding confidence, Yas offers distractions for Dom, trying to lure him out of his shell while checking that he is okay. As the film unfolds and the chance pair wander shops, bars, and burrito stands – sometimes literally, sometimes with a metaphysical whimsy – Yas’ bravado begins to crack and reveal her own recent breakup. Of course, she needs Dom to help her with one last act of revenge, and the will-they-won’t-they proceeds through increasingly audacious escapades.

Olan Collardy’s cinematography makes every vibrantly-decorated interior, odd passerby, and winding street shine; consequently, the film feels like an ode to its characters’ neighbourhood as much as it is to their burgeoning love story. Granted, pretentious artist types and karaoke nights are not unique features of the modern young professional’s romantic landscape, or unique to South London, and the capital city has been the backdrop for many a romantic comedy before now – a hilarious cameo from a early noughties rom-com star hearkens back to the age of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary. However, by pulling characteristics recognisable to many young people into painstaking geographic specificity, Rye Lane feels like a continuation of this great British cinematic legacy, and proof that the genre is far from dead. 

More importantly, Rye Lane is riotously funny. Oparah and Jonsson never oversell a joke, and while some of writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s humour rely on topicality, the majority of the laughs comes from the universal awkwardness of existence, connection, and vulnerability – the same qualities that make its predecessors infinitely rewatchable. While many situations Yas and Dom find themselves in are deeply and innately uncomfortable – again, both have recently gone through breakups, and are navigating the London housing and job market as modern young people – the script never deploys cringe for its own sake, instead looking for opportunities for deadpan, slapstick, and sweet. The result is fresh, charming, and timeless.

A delight from inauspicious start to sun-drenched finale, Rye Lane restores belief in love, London, and the rom-com genre. The next project from Allen-Miller is eagerly awaited.

Carmen is a Pennsylvanian transplant to Glasgow who writes about film, television, and opera. A lover of maximalism and musicals, much of her writing focuses on cross-media adaptation. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ludwig, Cabaret, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Moulin Rouge!. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie

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