The meet cute takes place in a loo. Not that they can see each other: that comes later when she recognizes his shoes. It doesn’t sound like the most promising of starts, but when it moves out on to the streets of South London, what could turn out to be the unexpected rom-com hit of 2023 bursts into life. And, with its freshness, energy and vibrant colours, Rye Lane has brought some much-needed warmth to both this year’s Sundance and the UK’s bitterly cold January.
That loo is where Yaz (Vivian Oparah) comes across a tearful Dom (David Jonsson), devastated after breaking up with his long-term girlfriend. They eventually meet face to face at an art exhibition and, despite being opposites, her straight-talking, can-do attitude is just what he needs and we follow them as they spend an eventful 24 hours in each other’s company. But when their differences come to the surface again, everything comes to an abrupt halt. Will they re-connect? And, if so, how?
This being a rom-com, we know the answer, but Rye Lane brings an approach to the genre that isn’t so much a breath of fresh air, more of a force nine gale. The sequences on the streets of South London – an area debut director Raine Allen-Miller knows and loves – celebrate the unpredictability that goes with street filming and the use of wide angled lenses gives it a distinctive, panoramic style. The dialogue is equally vibrant, sharp, quickfire and accentuating the contrast between the couple at the centre of the story – the direct, witty and resourceful Yaz and the quieter, more reserved Dom. Both are joyously believable and, as the film moves on, we learn more about them, especially past relationships which are still uncomfortably fresh in their memories.
They are, as one of the handful of other characters explains, “annoyingly perfect for each other”, with both Oparah and Jonsson delivering appealing performances in their first feature outing. Their on-screen chemistry is tangible and a delight to watch. We all know what to expect from a rom-com – or we think we do – but Allen-Miller has a few surprises up her directorial sleeve, including one brief and uncredited cameo which comes out of nowhere. The “can men and women just be friends” question is never asked, but there’s more than a hint of a Peckham riff on When Harry Met Sally, and that’s paying both films a compliment. Rye Lane is fast, funny and fizzy. And, when it opens in the UK in March, summer will most definitely have come early to cinema screens.
Romance, Comedy | Sundance Film Festival, premiered on 24 January. In UK cinemas from 17 March 2023 | Walt Disney Studios | Dir. Raine Allen-Miller | David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Munya Chawawa, Alice Hewkin, Simon Manyonda.