Love bleeds into life through a dreamy Brixton haze in Raine Allen-Miller’s Rye Lane, which must be far and away the best British romcom in some time. It’s a vibrant, audacious affair, thrumming with colour and exciting diversity of beats. Right from the off, via an aerial flight over a row of unisex lavatories, Rye Lane revels in its own strange and alluring beauty. The experience is all encompassing, a rush of overwhelming sensory engagement, but thoroughly intimate. It’s the sort of closeness that comes only when a film feels something of the love its story tells.
This is a love for community, both that found specifically in South London’s brightest boroughs and also in more illusive shapes, sizes and fits. As penned by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, Rye Lane unfolds almost entirely across the space of just one day, its narrative traversing a circumference wholly reachable on foot. A zany panorama of peoples elicit exchanges ranging from the pithy to profound and the astute to the downright hilarious.
It’s a rare film that so well balances broad, even occasionally slapstick, comic flair – watch for a blisteringly funny cameo from one rom com legend, in a burrito bar named Love Guac’tually – with quick witted observational insight and quietly powerful emotional intelligence. It’s a gag in the film that one of our leads appears to know all in Brixton, simply by virtue of her confidence in extending conversation beyond ‘hello’. By contrast, the genuine surprise of her counterpart cuts to the core of contemporary social disintegration.
Vivian Oparah is sensational as the former, with David Jonsson her worthy match in the role of the latter. Together, they are Yas and Dom and a glorious pairing at that. The fizz of electric chemistry emanates from them, bouncing around the insular framing of cinematographer Olan Collardy’s warped lenders. A fish bowl aesthetic holds Yas and Dom within their own unique and self-contained universe, the manipulation and centralisation of focus complementing the film’s interest in fate. What it is to be in the right place at the right time to truly see things in their sharpest relief. It is a chance encounter – ‘of all the toilets in all of London’ – that gift Yas and Dom their meet-cute but one that changes everything.
It is across the blockade of a toilet cubicle door that Yas and Dom first connect, she overheating he sobbing over pictures of his ex and her new man. Each has been cajoled into attending a revoltingly pretentious exhibition of high focus mouths – ‘the Stonehenge of the face’. From here, Dom is to meet his appallingly selfish ex – Karene Peter’s Gia – for a loaded lunch with best mate turned bed-swapper Eric, who is played with goofy, guffaw-inducing absurdity by Benjamin Sarpong-Broni. Interest piqued, Yas gatecrashes, spinning a quick yarn and championing the hopeless romantic she’s literally only just met.
For her part, Yas too reels from a messy break up, having finally come to the realisation that her artistically pompous ex was not the sort of man who would wave back at exuberant boaters on the Thames. There are, she notes, two sorts of people in the world: those who wave back and those who are dead inside. Over the course of Rye Lane’s concise runtime, Yas will Dom will unite in finding each other’s vital closure points, while deciding which camp the other falls into. Episodes in their twelve-hour adventure blend seamlessly into a sprawling flow, as comforting to the soul as warm honey or the lick of an open fire.
While soothing and familiar, Rye Lane sidesteps cliché courtesy of the hottest rising talent in British cinema. Allen-Miller’s dynamic production zings with a thrilling pace and potent eye and ear for sensory experimentation. Eruptions of colour bring to life the film’s three-wheeling love story, a tale of two romancers and a third. That bring the adoration afforded the world in which Yas and Dom inhabit. It’s a world you’ll want to be part of in a dazzling film you don’t want to miss.