Rye Lane (2023)
Director: Raine Allen-Miller
Screenwriter: Nathan Byron, Tom Melia
Starring: David Johnson, Vivian Oparah, Poppy Allen-Quarmby, Simon Manyonda, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni
It’s difficult to grow up in the UK without some kind of affinity for the USA. Americana is so engrained in our cultural consciousness that you naturally start to wonder why we don’t have our own version of it – why are Americans so much better at celebrating where they come from than we are? To be fair, a good assumption might be that they just have more aesthetically pleasing names for their towns and cities than we do. “Sleepless in Stoke-on-Trent” probably wouldn’t give off the right vibe for a romantic drama, although “Fear and Loathing in Long Eaton” isn’t quite as far off the mark. All of that said, it hasn’t stopped Raine Allen-Miller from celebrating Peckham with her debut feature, or more specifically the road that runs away from the high street.
Rye Lane is described by Allen-Miller as two people spending a day together and having a lovely time, and that does form the nucleus at the centre of it. Their ideals of a lovely day change along the way, and they find themselves in multiple awkward conversations and situations to get there, but it ultimately is a really lovely day. There’s a lot of connective tissue with the iconic British romcoms of the past such as Love Actually and, well, any Richard Curtis film really, in that everything builds towards a comforting fuzzy feeling that isn’t too challenging or taxing – it’s just very nice.
We start by meeting Dom (David Jonsson) who’s crying in the cubicle of a gender-neutral toilet. He still refers to his recent breakup as “the” breakup, and it’s probably the only aspect of his life that isn’t perfect. His parents love him, he’s working a job that he’s fine with, but more importantly one he studied to do, and he’s comfortable with who he is. When Yas (Vivian Oparah) overhears him, he does his best to keep as quiet as possible but the heartbreak is just too much. He even tries to time his cries with the abrasive ambience of flushing toilets but Yas is far too smart to let him get away with that. With bright pink Converse trainers, Dom’s easy enough to spot in a crowd that Yas is able to make conversation once they’re both out in the open at a mutual friend’s art exhibition.
They walk around South London and get to know one another through an easy-flowing conversation. Dom is an accountant who’s just moved back home – and he emphasises the word “back” because it implies he’d left previously. He’s back there because his ex, the other party in “the” breakup, cheated on him with his best friend from primary school and he had to move out to accommodate their new relationship. Being the mature, self-assured guy that he is, he’s on his way to meet the two of them for dinner to clear the air. This naturally appeals to Yas’s strong sense of justice, so she gatecrashes the meal to enact her own form of petty vengeance to hilarious effect.
Yas is an aspiring costume designer on the search for the better life that she has dreamed of. She is also going through a breakup, but she’s far more comfortable with hers. At least outwardly. She reels off stories of how she was the badass of the situation, and Dom has nothing but admiration for how she handles herself. Or at least how she tells the story of how she handled herself.
There’s a certain familiarity that watching it as a Londoner evokes. There are so many iconic locations, and even fictional ones that slot in as if they’d existed all along. But even if none of that was present, it would be the people in this that make it undeniably London. Their attitudes, their social circles, and their family backgrounds. Every character, no matter how big or small their role, seems to have so much to them, and it’d be difficult to find all of them together anywhere else. Rye Lane shines a spotlight on one of the aspects of London that make it such a special city – that people with vastly different lives and backgrounds are all able to co-exist in the same space.
One of the interesting London paradoxes that Rye Lane plays into is the idea that it’s a 24-hour city that imposes a time limit on itself. As much as tourists are sold the idea of the Night Tube, the authentic experience of London is nothing without the fear of the night bus. Yas is a free spirit who wants to stay out all night, and Dom is a sensible accountant who questions whether another hour or two is worth it despite what a lovely time they’re having. It’s a low-level conflict which may seem like it’s erring on the side of melodrama, but it’s one that no Londoner will question – especially those who live outside of the reach of the Night Tube.
Rye Lane is guilty of all of the problems that come with the territory of being an easy-watching British romcom. It’s predictable, and there’s very little challenge to overcome when it’s written to be so lovely. Where it sets itself apart is that it pays attention to and amplifies the little things – every scene has something going on in the background, and every character feels like they bring a lifetime of baggage with them. It all feels just as busy and vibrant as London itself is, and with that, there’s a feeling that it can’t be as predictable as it seems because it is real. All logic tells us that we know what’s about to happen, but how can we when it’s actually happening right in front of us?
Rye Lane is about two characters who are flawed in their own ways finding peace in one another. It’s a lesson in how simple life can be if we’re willing to let it, and how beauty can be found all around us if we’re willing to pay attention.
By Rob Jones