Rye Lane (now on Hulu) is a unicorn in 2023: A downright lovable romantic comedy. It’s effervescent and buoyant (I know all the adjectives, don’t I), the product of first-time feature director Raine Allen-Miller, who deposits stars Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson on the lovingly photographed streets of South London for a meet-cute, lots of spirited conversation and some impeccably timed comic moments – and leaves us wanting more. The film debuted at Sundance in 2023, and Fox Searchlight wisely didn’t dilly-dally while getting it in front of wide audiences, who may just watch this 82-minute delight and then start right over and watch it again.
RYE LANE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: They met in a toilet. Unisex. He was crying in a stall. She was just trying to have a pee. They run in the same circles, but hadn’t met before. They both know the photographer whose work hangs in the gallery surrounding the unisex toilet. Dom (Jonsson) admires one of the many extreme close-up shots of people’s lips and mouths and tongues – “The mouth is the Stonehenge of the face!” we hear the artist declare – and Yas (Oparah) recognizes the pink Chucks from the weeper in the loo. She approaches him. Asks how he’s doing. Fine. Good. I’m good, he says. Good, she says. He looks at her. She looks at him. Pause. They talk about the mouths. They’re lyrical, he says, or expressive. Wow, you know all the adjectives, she says. (I like this guy.) She’s f—ing with him, gently. (I like this girl, too.) He smiles, barely, and squirms, barely. Barely smile-squirms. She’s adorable. He’s sweet. Someone smoosh them together, please! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s sexual tension to brew and simmer here.
He’s leaving. So is she, in the same direction. How about that. Are they Before Sunrise-ing? Oh boy, I hope so. Yas is the type of woman who curtsies in a manner that’s hilarious and amazing and classic but also new and fresh and exciting. She’ll just walk up to a person and start talking, perfectly. Not too much, not too little. Dom is less gregarious. A bit timid. Reserved, but never antisocial. If a woman walks up to him and starts talking, perfectly, he will respond in a manner that befits who he is. The urge to define Dom and Yas in political terms must be resisted. Must. They’re young, in their 20s. She’s bold, confident. He’s softspoken, sensitive. Toxicity, consent, awkward 21st-century sexual dynamics – flush all that and scrub the bowl with the blue goop and flush it again. They act how they act in this environment and they’re thoughtful and considerate and funny, yet they never seem as if they’re in a bubble. They’re modern people.
Anyway. That bit in the toilet – it comes up. The topic of Dom crying, I mean. He shares his feelings with Yas. He was upset because he’s not over a breakup. His ex cheated on him with his best mate. Dom spotted his uncovered member in the background of a screenshot of his girl. Busted. Imagine that. And we watch as Dom and Yas jump back to the scene of brokenhearted Dom weeping into his popcorn in a movie theater. They’re in the row behind him. How do they do this? It’s the movies. You visualize things in the movies. Show, don’t tell, you know. Yas, she’s better at hiding her pain – or maybe dealing with it? Her ex is a pretentious artist. Full of himself. Treated her like dirt. They watch from above as Past Yas dumps hummus on the jerk and packs up and leaves. The straw that broke the camel’s back? He said A Tribe Called Quest was “shit.” Can’t blame her for that one.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: As previously implied, Rye Lane is a variation of Before Sunrise set in London’s West Indian boroughs, although it’s a little more than just two lovely young people talking and falling in love. And it acknowledges what came before it by making damn sure we hear a background character say the words “Steve McQueen is a genius!” (Note to the uninitiated: Meander on over to Amazon Prime Video and watch McQueen’s Small Axe series.)
Performance Worth Watching: Won’t pick between these two. They’re yin-and-yang in this movie, each exquisitely playing off the other’s strengths. Gun to my head? It’d be 50.1 percent Oparah, 49.9 percent Jonsson.
Memorable Dialogue: Yas: “If you make the hummus, you should get the head.”
Sex and Skin: We don’t really see any head given, or gotten. Or the blurry member in the background of a screenshot that briefly flashes on screen.
Our Take: If only more rom-coms had the inspired visual acumen, snappy writing (from scripters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia) and sparkling chemistry between its two leads. Rye Lane is a gem among gems, an upbeat, effortlessly funny, breezy romance that isn’t trying to be deep and meaningful and weighty. It’s about two people and the charming, clever-but-not-too-clever manner in which they communicate and share themselves with each other. It’s a firefly you catch in your hands and hold and admire for a brief moment in time before you let it go.
Allen-Miller upends the formula for films of this ilk by refusing to simply set up the camera and have her cast recite lines at each other. There’s a youthful, spritely rhythm to the dialogue as Jonsson and Oparah banter with just enough elevated wit to make us smile, but not so much that what they’re saying and doing feels calculated or overly written. The two principals have wonderfully expressive faces, and their performances are endearingly silly at times, never forced, always open-hearted. There’s love in Allen-Miller’s direction, the way the soundtrack enhances the vibe, the way she affectionately photographs the colors and characters of the South London backdrop as Yas and Dom find themselves at burrito stands, karaoke bars and a backyard BBQ. Rye Lane glides. It just glides. On a simple philosophy voiced by Yas: “Sometimes, you just gotta say, ‘I’ma see what happens.’” And what happens here is wonderful, and maybe even life-affirming.
Our Call: One more adjective: Rye Lane is amazing. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Rye Lane’ on Hulu, an Effervescent Rom-Com About Young Love in South London appeared first on Decider.