Directed by Raine Allen-Miller | Written by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia | 82 min | ▲▲▲▲▲ | Disney +
Dom (David Jonsson) has just been dumped by his girlfriend who cheated on him with his best friend. When we meet him he’s crying his heart out in an art gallery’s unisex bathroom. Yas (Vivian Oparah) has also experienced a recent heartbreak with her ex, but is maybe a little further down the road to recovery than Dom. She hears him bawling in a stall and clocks his pink Chucks under the door.
As far as a meet-cute, it’s unique.
A few minutes later they’re out in the gallery and Yas recognizes Dom from the shoes. From there they stroll through Peckham, South London, and over to Brixton, and then points beyond over the course of a day, eventually including the Tate Modern on the South Bank, while they encounter people from both of their lives including Dom’s ex and ex-best friend and Yas’ ex’s parents. We also get a few chucklesome flashbacks to their recent romantic disasters.
As a serious lover of the city where this movie is set, the fidelity to the South-Of-The-River neighbourhoods — even getting the geography more or less right — is a genuine pleasure. (The marketplace they visit in Brixton is right off the famous Electric Avenue.) The filmmaker’s fondness for wide-angle lenses gives the film a playful vibe, matching the colourful costumes and locations — a little reminiscent of the opening act of Do The Right Thing, before the heat and anger took it in a different direction.
This is a surprisingly fresh reimagining of the romantic comedy with a largely Black British cast, taking care to include a lot of cultural signifiers that we don’t see often enough in mainstream cinema. The script is wildly funny and unexpected — when was the last time you watched a romcom where you weren’t at least 75% sure of where it was going? OK, sure, it’s likely this fetching couple is going to get together, but the movie tosses up too many twists and left turns to be able to predict how.
Jonsson and Oparah are utterly winning and have terrific chemistry — he’s a bit sensitive and awkward while she’s the extrovert, outgoing to the point of eccentricity, though also concealing her own pain. The scene where she insists they go and retrieve her A Tribe Called Quest record from her ex’s “gaff” deserves multiple viewings. The film also taught me a little slang I didn’t know — “peng” is a word I might work into my vocabulary.
I’ve read a few comparisons made with Richard Linklater’s Before series, what with the surfeit of exterior walking and talking scenes, but while I get the idea, the tone here is entirely different, scrappier, and less reverent to notions of politics or decorum. This is leaning a little more toward Fleabag, which is one of the highest compliments I can throw at it.
It’s also confident enough in what it has going on to offer a completely unsubtle cameo and nod to a giant of the genre — I wanna eat at a Mexican eatery called Love Guac’tually.
Simply put, Rye Lane is a total blast.