Rye Lane Review: This Winsome Comedy Is Like A Sillier, Funnier Version Of Before Sunrise [Sundance]

Richard Linklater totally nailed the "two people fall in love as they wander around a city" subgenre back in 1995, and you could fill an indie film graveyard with the number of movies that have tried and failed to capture that magic. Thankfully, director Raine Allen-Miller has managed to put her spin on it in delightful fashion with her feature debut, "Rye Lane," which is as much a love letter to the beauty and diversity of South London as it is to the beloved rom-com tropes that came before it.

Dom (David Jonsson) is having a bad day. Like, "crying in a public bathroom" levels of bad. His ex-girlfriend of six years cheated on him three months earlier with his idiotic best friend, and Dom is dreading a meeting between the three of them planned for later that day to "clear the air." Looking at his ex's social media photos, he breaks down, blubbering in a stall and attracting the attention of an unseen girl in the stall next to him, and the two share an awkward conversation before she leaves. Dom gathers his composure and emerges into a museum where a pal is putting on a bizarre exhibit of photos of people's mouths. (The artist calls the mouth the "Stonehenge of the face.") A fast-talking girl named Yas (Vivian Oparah) recognizes Dom's shoes from the bathroom and strikes up a conversation, and the two go on a slow stroll across the city, sharing smiles and revealing snippets of their previous relationship struggles.

Predictable, but hilarious

As Dom heads into a restaurant to attend the dreaded confrontation with his ex, Yas decides to crash the party, posing as his new girlfriend and rocking the dynamic like a social grenade tossed onto their table in the film's funniest and most electrifying set piece. Energized and buzzing on adrenaline, the two head off into the afternoon and keep their unofficial tour of the city going, revealing even more about themselves and growing closer by the minute. A plan to retrieve a lost record from Yas' ex-boyfriend results in an elaborate series of events, including a stop at a backyard BBQ and a stint at a karaoke bar. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, there must also be a big blow-up that separates our would-be lovers for just long enough for them to realize they can't live without each other, but everything in this movie is so damn charming that I forgave Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia's script for being almost laughably predictable. When the characters are this much fun to spend time with, who cares if you can guess what's going to happen next?

Oparah is a live wire, bringing a sparkling charisma and devil-may-care attitude to Yas that contrasts with Dom's analytical, self-conscious ways. (She's an aspiring costume designer, he's an accountant.) Jonsson does a nice job of not tipping too far into sad sack territory; his Dom is always relatable, and the actor has a natural exuberance and a willingness to try anything, as long as he has someone there to give him a little push in the right direction.

The movie is in love with its setting as much as its characters

It's obvious that Allen-Miller has a genuine love for South London, and cinematographer Olan Collardy often utilizes a fisheye lens to capture as much of the area's diverse backdrops as possible. Watching Dom and Yas walk through parks, gardens, marketplaces, playgrounds, movie theaters, museums, and bridges, it's almost enough to double as a tourism ad. All of the food looks mouth-watering, and all of the environments are rendered with such love and care that you can practically smell them because they're so detailed. When a little girl riding a pink scooter toward the camera near the end of a take begins to vocalize loudly to no one for no particular reason, it feels like a real-life mistake Allen-Miller purposefully kept in the movie because it underlines the spontaneous, anything-can-happen-here vibe she's trying to establish in this setting.

Lovable, uplifting, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face, "Rye Lane" is the funniest movie of 2023 so far and a highly satisfying walk-and-talk romance.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10