Iconic. It is a term readily used throughout Raine Allen-Miller’s colourful, eccentric directorial debut about two recent singletons, Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson), who find themselves on a chaotic, freewheeling path towards romance. It’s fitting: ‘iconic’ might just be the adjective best used to describe this quasi-fantastical, utterly charming delight of a film.
The set-up is hardly novel: a chance meeting between two twenty-somethings whose shared experience of heartbreak lands them in a series of outlandish scenarios as the embers of romance begin to ignite. There is, however, a notably specific sense of time and place to proceedings here. Co-written by Nathan Byron and Tom Melia, Rye Lane is a film that, at its core, is unashamedly British. But, more than that, it’s unashamedly London, and unashamedly London in an age of gender-neutral bathrooms, vibrant multiculturalism, and doom scrolling. As such, there is a wonderful feeling of homing in and zooming out: running in tandem with the effortlessly likeable central duo’s figurative journey towards rediscovery is a very literal one through the playgrounds, pubs, markets, and backyard barbecues of Peckham and Brixton.
At times, Allen-Miller utilises a fisheye lens – an aesthetic shrewdly adopted to centre Yas and Dom’s growing relationship – while at others allowing the camera to wander, instead focussing on a group doing yoga in the park or a man dancing in a shiny blue cowboy suit in a shopping centre. As much as it is about two of them, Rye Lane is a celebration of people, their cultures and all its glorious randomness.
While it often leans heavily on the Richard Curtis formula for Blighty fairytale romance (including an inspired A-list cameo), as well as invoking many of the heavyweights – When Harry met Sally’s zingy, zesty dialogue; Lost in Translation’s memorable karaoke sequence – that so much of Allen-Miller’s movie feels recycled yet markedly fresh is testament to the 33-year-old’s fledgling filmmaker’s grasp of the genre. Having previously helmed a number of music videos, she brings that same distinctive visual verve to her storytelling. As Yas and Dom begin to open up to one another about the details of their respective breakups, Allen-Miller niftily toys with perspective. The result is a series of cartoonish skits that could easily feel gimmicky but instead bring an infectious energy as they move quickly and seamlessly between reality and fantasy.
After such joyful playfulness in the build-up, it’s something of a disappointment then that the film doesn’t quite stick the landing. In the end, there’s an overwhelming (or, rather, underwhelming) feeling of syrupy familiarity to the curtain closer. But for all its enchanting charm and personality, Rye Lane more than earns its final, life-affirming act of convention.
And at just 82-minutes, it feels like it’s all over in a flash. The again, perhaps that’s entirely the point: that Rye Lane is not necessarily a sweeping epic of timeless, universal romance but, rather, a brief, beautifully wacky snapshot of love very much in the moment. The outcome is the best British romcom in years.
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_GeorgeNash for more movie musings