Rye Lane Director Raine Allen-Miller On Subverting The 'Cheesy' Romantic Comedy [Exclusive Interview]

Raine Allen-Miller does not hate romantic comedies, whatever her recent comments on the genre might suggest. Her upcoming film "Rye Lane" is itself a rom-com, but the filmmaker clearly worked hard to avoid the pitfalls of a genre that's become a bit too safe and formulaic.

"I went into making 'Rye Lane' hoping it would not quite be a typical rom-com," Allen-Miller recently explained. "It's so funny because I actually hate that it's a rom-com, but it is." That sentiment caused a bit of a stir after "Rye Lane" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and it's come back to haunt Allen-Miller as the film gears up for its international release. The director's been debunking her "hatred" for the genre while promoting "Rye Lane" in London — "Someone came in and went, 'I heard you hate rom-coms!'" she told me via Zoom — but the film itself is actually strong evidence to the contrary.

Whatever Allen-Miller's thoughts on the rom-com, "Rye Lane" is an unmistakable tribute to the genre. It takes cues from classics like "Before Sunrise" and "Notting Hill," but the movie's direction, script, and cinematography all find ways to set it apart from those that came before. Below, Allen-Miller explains how her love letter to South London took shape.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'I love the idea of a very simple story of two people wandering around together'

I just want to start off by saying congratulations on such a stunning debut. It put such a smile on my face. I love a good rom-com.

Oh, thank you.

I've heard you're not the biggest fan of rom-coms, though. So what was it about "Rye Lane" that made you want to explore that in your first feature?

Well, I'm not not a fan of rom-coms. I just don't ... there's not any that have popped for me of late. There's some amazing rom-coms from the '90s, sort of early 2000s. But for me, I think I went into it going, "I love the idea of a very simple story of two people wandering around together, and I love humor," and I think that was the attraction. The script had the space for me to really flex my muscles and add South London — a place that's really close to my heart — to it. But yeah, I don't hate rom-coms. I feel like this is going around now!

Oh, no. Have a lot of people asked you that already?

Someone came in and went, "I heard you hate rom-coms!" I was like, "No, that's not true!" I think also, I don't like the rom-com term. It sounds so cheesy.

What did prep work look like for "Rye Lane"? Did you study any rom-coms or any other films for visual references?

No, I think I'm quite strong on my visuals. I've been directing commercials and music videos, and I've made a short film. I feel very clear on my vision of things. I obviously have influences throughout life: Films, photography, art that inspire me. But I definitely didn't research rom-coms. In a way, I kind of went into it going, "I want to make a rom-com that feels like my rom-com," and hopefully it does.

'Everything is quite considered, but it comes from a place of truth'

I feel like walk and talk films especially can look quite flat, but "Rye Lane" transcends that in a really beautiful way. Could you talk a bit about the process of creating that world and establishing the sort of visual language that "Rye Lane" has?

Yeah. The way I approach things the whole time, really, is approaching it from a place of truth. South London looks like this. South London feels like this, and these people are wandering around South London the whole time. And I quite like the idea of — I kind of bang on about things being accidentally art directed, but it's essentially going, "This is a real thing. This is a real place. But let's just shoot it in a way that elevates it and that shines a light on it." So that's my approach. Everything is quite considered, but it comes from a place of truth.

We tried really hard not to touch things too much or to overly design. It's all real locations and the characters need to feel real and human. But yeah, I'm definitely considered with my approach, visually. All the departments need to be singing from the same hymn sheet: Costume, production design, cinematography, sound, all those things need to have a clear vision. And I guess that comes from me, and I think I'm pretty clear on how I like things to look and feel. I like it to be a sort of 3D experience without the glasses. I hate those glasses.

They give you a headache for sure.

They're awful!

"Rye Lane" is in UK cinemas now and debuts on Hulu on March 31, 2023.