Take the plot of one of Richard Linklater’s Before movies, combine it with the eye-popping aesthetic of Wes Anderson, then set it within the ethnically diverse, highly photogenic South London enclave of Peckham, and you’ll wind up with Rye Lane.
Starring the charismatic pair of David Jonsson (Industry) and Vivian Oparah (Teen Spirit) as a would-be couple who spend one long, action-packed day checking each other out around the film’s titular thoroughfare, Raine Allen-Miller’s rather addictive feature debut is colorfully clever and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. But most of all it manages to make an old story feel new. This Sundance premiere from Searchlight Pictures should help put its gifted first-time director on the map.
The Bottom Line
A meet-cute full of charisma and cheek.
We’ve seen it before: the meet-cute of two attractive youngsters on the rebound, the stories of their hellish exes, the flirting and the sidestepping, the anticipation of the first kiss, the rejection and the inevitable reunion. Allen-Miller, working with a script by Nathan Brion and Tom Melia, includes all of these ingredients Rye Lanetosses them together and then adds her own special sauce to give it just the right zing.
Part of that comes from the undeniable charms of her two leads, who bring two very different kinds of energy to their characters: Johnsson plays Dom, a reserved, sweet-faced mama’s boy who still lives at home and recently learned that his girlfriend of six years, Gia (Karene Peter), has been two-timing him with his best friend, Eric (Benjamin Sarprong-Broni). Oparah’s Yas is very much the opposite: outspoken and bold, she lives on her own and is trying to make it as a costume designer in movies. But she’s had a nasty break-up as well and, unlike Dom, seems ready to move on.
Opposites of course attract, and Allen-Miller sets the stage from the very first scene — which takes place in the bathroom of an art gallery — for a brief encounter that will bring Dom and Yas together for the next 80 minutes. The film’s concise running time is entirely justified and there’s barely a wasted moment or location, with the director following her two lovebirds through the heart and soul of Peckham (plus a brief foray to neighboring Brixton), where they wander around indoor markets and tree- lined blocks, in a vibrant community filled with people of African and Caribbean origin.
Shot in Anamorphic widescreen by the talented Olan Collardy, also making his feature debut, Rye Lane is packed with the kind of colorful frames and zipping lateral or frontal tracking shots that Wes Anderson — who is name-checked in the opening sequence — is known for. But whereas Anderson’s films tend to focus on closed worlds and playful historical anachronisms, Allen-Miller takes that style out into the streets, turning a familiar story set in an ordinary place into something more special.
There’s also much more of a hip-hop vibe at play here, from the subplot revolving around Yas stealing A Tribe Called Quest’s seminal LP. The Low End Theory from her pretentious artist ex-boyfriend (Malcolm Atobrah) to an exhilarating karaoke version of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” that she and Dom performed to a whooping crowd.
The comedy in Rye Lane also feels fresh, especially the rapid-fire banter Dom and Yas constantly engage in — and for which this Yankee critic could have probably used some subtitles. Allen-Miller presents us with two smart and snarky Londoners for whom taking the piss out of each other is the highest form of courtship, and while Dom at first comes across as the quiet type, he proves to be Yas’ equal in terms of repartee. . It’s their words that bring them together more than anything else.
Things head more or less where you expect they would in the finale, which winds up being too cute for its own good. In that sense, Rye Lane ultimatley stays inside the box of the genre, even if Allen-Miller does a good job thinking outside of it as well. It’s more like she uses the genre as a template to explore the things she knows and loves: the people, places, sight and sounds of a neighborhood she both documents and glamorizes on the big screen, transforming reality into cheeky fantasy.
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