The romantic comedy genre is dead. In the past twenty years, the rom-com has been in sharp decline thanks to generic, mass-produced Netflix movies and lackluster studio efforts. However, Raine Allen Miller’s “Rye Lane” doesn’t just bring a bit of light to the genre; it resurrects the modern rom-com as we know it, crafting a funny and fresh film that’s full of passion.
On paper, the plot isn’t anything special: after bad breakups, Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) wander the streets of South London helping each other move on and find new joy in life. Spoiler alert: they also fall in love. Despite its somewhat predictable plot, “Rye Lane” stands out for its cartoonish sense of humor; slick editing; and, most of all, a clear enthusiasm that many movies these days lack.
The film clocks in at a tight 82 minutes, and although some sequences could have been extended, the short timeframe works well as it never feels like a slog. A likely cause of this is the pure kineticism of the filmmaking: bright oranges and reds fill the frame, contrasting with the overcast London skies, and the camera never sits still (except for when it needs to, when Miller subtly slows it down to add a heightened sense of realism), constantly being whipped around by the creative editing.
Showing the colorful setting is a priority for the cinematographer, so they often opt for wide shots. Although the intentions are noble, this leads to two major problems. Firstly, as much of the film features Dom and Yas walking and talking in Linklater-esque fashion, they pull into a wide tracking shot regularly. However, the camera is so focused on showing the setting, that it ends up just a bit too distant from the characters. This leads to their expressions being a hint too far away for us to fully appreciate the performances. Secondly, many shots use a fish-eye lens on the background, which, although making for some stunning shots, is used too frequently to pack much of a punch and ends up distracting from the well-written dialogue.
Although there are a few missteps in the filmmaking, we should cut Miller some slack, seeing as it’s her debut feature. She executes everything else to near perfection, in particular, the casting. Jonsson does a nice job portraying the skittish Dom, but Vivian Oparah steals the spotlight. Her energy and comedic timing lend themselves perfectly to the film and elevate it over the competition. The supporting cast all bring a perfect energy and fun to their eclectic characters.
In addition to the performances, another standout is the post-production team. The editing has exceptionally creative cuts that add rhythm and pace to the movie, and the soundtrack is perfectly curated (highlights include Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” and Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop”). The color grading is also strong, adding sharpness and a bright hue to every frame. Even the title card looks great.
Despite the ebullience of the film, it can’t completely escape the trappings of the genre. The story beats are all predictable, and when you step back and examine the structure of the screenplay, its simplicity exposes a weak story. In addition, some of the more emotional scenes drag in comparison to the energy of the others. Luckily, they never last for far longer than they’re needed, and the rapid pace picks back up quickly.
“Rye Lane” may well be the best rom-com in many years, and a large part of that is due to the clear passion that went into it. Sure, it may not have much conflict or many dramatic twists and turns, and it’s undeniable that some of the creative choices are a little questionable, but its biggest strength overpowers those: it’s simple. Nothing too fancy, nothing too crazy. Just a good, old-fashioned comedy. It’s heartfelt and funny and, above all, entertaining. You just can’t hate “Rye Lane.” The moment the credits roll, you’ll find a smile on your face, because at its core, it’s a smile of a movie.