Rye Lane review: A self-assured, charismatic British romcom? It feels like a miracle

Rye Lane review: A self-assured, charismatic British romcom? It feels like a miracle

The romcom has lapsed into such an anaemic state that Rye Lane feels like a miracle. Here’s an entry into the genre that doesn’t surrender to thinkpiece-ready neuroticism. And doesn’t demand two A-listers shoulder the entire job of summoning chemistry from a dead-eyed script. And, most refreshingly, doesn’t subsist purely on nostalgia for romcoms of old.

Raine Allen-Miller’s breezy, south London-set debut is exactly what we deserve from this genre. With one foot in the present and the other in the past, it follows a day-long flirtation – à la Before Sunrise – between two of life’s loveable losers, Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson). Both are shipwrecked by post-breakup shame. But when Yas catches Dom in the act of a not-so-private sob session in an art gallery bathroom, the pair become unlikely allies in the search for emotional closure. Yas subs in as Dom’s faux-girlfriend during humiliating peace talks with his ex Gia (Karene Peter), and the himbo (an excellent Benjamin Sarpong-Broni) with whom she cheated on him. Dom, in return, helps Yas steal back her A Tribe Called Quest LP from the conceptual artist (Malcolm Atobrah) she regrettably used to date.

On paper, Rye Lane rolls out a very familiar dynamic: the heartbroken introvert rejuvenated by the presence of a woman who’s more confident, more enigmatic, and more spontaneous than he could ever hope to be. But Yas is a far cry from those Garden State-style manic pixie dream girls so saccharine they rotted the teeth of many a 2000s indie romcom. Shaped by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script, and given an electric grin by Oparah (whose easy charm means she has “future star” written all over her), she’s as real and relatable as they come. Yas is definitely anxious. A little broken, too. Her only trick is that she’s better at hiding it. Dom, it’s worth pointing out, is hardly the self-pitying dweeb, either. There’s no difficulty in believing Yas would fall for him, and he for her, and Rye Lane allows their sexual tension to blossom without fuss or divine (script) intervention.

Peckham also hasn’t seen itself sanded down and packaged up for international tourists. Rye Lane isn’t exactly a rebuke of Richard Curtis’s middle-class, suffocatingly white portraits of London life in Notting Hill or Bridget Jones’s Diary – there’s a wholesome cameo from one of his stars, and a handful of visual homages to his work. But this is a romcom self-assured enough to acknowledge its predecessors without cowering behind their legacies. Allen-Miller’s vision is very much her own: an exhilarating mix of lengthy tracking shots, kaleidoscopic colours, and razor-sharp edits courtesy of Victoria Boydell. Yas and Dom stumble around in each other’s romantic flashbacks, going over the ins and outs of their respective breakups. One of them took place in a cinema, and when the flashback ends and the pair are snapped back to reality, Yas somehow still has her popcorn bucket in hand.

Allen-Miller’s frequent use of the fish-eye lens feels as if her camera is hungrily trying to take in more of its surroundings. It’s such a rarity to see real-life locations presented like this – teeming with life, whether that be Peckhamplex Cinema or Brixton Market. We’re constantly reminded that there are hundreds more stories weaving in and out of these streets, existing beyond Yas and Dom’s. This romance is special. But it also sort of isn’t. It’s exactly the kind of hope the most lovelorn in Rye Lane’s audience might be looking for.

Dir: Raine Allen-Miller. Starring: Vivian Oparah, David Jonsson, Alice Hewkin, Munya Chawawa, Simon Manyonda, Karene Peter, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni. 15, 82 minutes.

‘Rye Lane’ is in cinemas from 17 March