Films like Before Sunrise showed that it’s possible to make a compelling movie about two people walking around and talking. In Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane, this same construct is applied with the backdrop of South London. Colorful and playful, Rye Lane may not be as charming as similar films, but it’s still a fun romp through a side of London rarely seen on screen with two protagonists that exemplify the joy life can bring when you leave room for spontaneity.
Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Johnson) meet at a mutual friend’s art gallery opening in the unisex bathrooms as Yas hears Dom crying in a stall over a recent breakup. Intrigued, they chat a little in the gallery before deciding to walk home together. As they wander South London and Rye Lane Market, the two start to get to know one another and before they know it, they’re bonding over breakups and dreams as sparks start to fly.
The film’s location sings on screen, with tons of bright colors on the street, inside stores, and on the clothing of our characters. It’s clear that this movie wants nothing more than to be a fun time, a joyful reprieve from anything drab. It’s also clear that Miller loves South London deeply, the winding streets, alleys, markets, and the people that inhabit them give the film a real sense of place and neighborhood.
The plot itself is a bit weaker. While there are some great comedic moments, the film can’t seem to sustain its charm over 82 minutes and feels unsure of its final act, finally deciding to lean in the rom-com direction. In doing so, the ending feels predictable and formulaic. Dom is the most developed character and Johnson has a nerdy cool presence that helps lift the film. Oparah as Yas doesn’t have quite the same impact, in part due to a character twist that feels rushed and poorly executed. Most of the film seems to be centered on Dom and his perspective, which feels like a strange choice for a film that centers on two people.
The colorful scenery and spoken-word-like dialogue lend the film an artificiality that lends an exaggerated vibe to the movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anchored by Yas and Dom, you still end up rooting for the couple at the heart of Rye Lane and having a few chuckles at supporting characters like Dom’s friend Eric, who plays the buffoon excellently. The scenery is a feast for the eyes, so while it may not make a list of great rom-coms, it’s a nice little escape to South London.