‘Rye Lane’ Is a Hilariously Inventive Modern-Day British Romcom
Raine Allen-Miller’s feature directorial debut Rye Lane, out now on Hulu, is a firecracker of a film exploring modern-day dating (and heartbreak) mores while providing witty commentary on the borderline-absurd ways in which millennials and zoomers have latched onto social media buzzword culture.
Running a brisk one hour and 22 minutes, and set in South London, it opens on Yas (Vivian Oparah) finding Dom (Industry’s David Jonsson) crying in a unisex bathroom. Yas is initially confused about the identity of the person whose wails are echoing off the stalls, interrupting her pee flow. She peeks underneath the stall, only to find a pair of bright-pink Converse sneakers. That the bathroom sign reads “INCLUSIVE” in all-caps points to an inversion of the traditional romcom damsel in distress.
After finally meeting on the floor of an art exhibit when Yas recognizes Dom’s bright Converse kicks, the two seem to gel even though their styles and approach are noticeably different. It’s in this difference that we begin to unpack the inner world of Dom and what it is he needs saving from: getting over his trifling ex-girlfriend of six years whom he constantly gave grand gestures. And while Yas’s story is kept from view in the film’s first half, we catch a glimpse of the secrets that lay beneath her confident, in-your-face personality.
Rye Lane Market, a collection of shops in Peckham, serves as the site where the duo discovers one another. They’re each trying to conform to societal expectations of “adulting correctly”: Dom’s an accountant back at home with a “mum” who routinely (and rather weirdly) boils him eggs; Yas is struggling to find a job to pay her bills while she chases her costume-designer dreams.
About that gender-role reversal: it’s Yas who carries the vision, unintentionally foreshadowing the events that await viewers. “Onwards they stroll, each step taking them closer to their mystery destination,” she tells a timid Dom, who’s headed to confront his ex-girlfriend about cheating on him with his best mate. And, in this confrontation, it is Dom who is surely the damsel, telling Yas (who a scene before admitted to wanting to be “Purple Rain Prince”) that she has “rode to my rescue” when she smoothly crashes the meeting.
Rye Lane, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, is vibrant in both action and cinematography. The use of neon and pastel colors, and fisheye lenses, give it a magical fairy-tale feel — as do the random and brilliant outbursts of song, from a stoic uncle stopping a party in its tracks by singing Sananda Maitreya’s R&B anthem “Sign Your Name” to a seemingly made-up tune about eating meat, in which the actor’s genuine chuckles make the cut. The film’s composer Kwes, a musician from London who’s produced for Solange and Black Coffee, gives us a number of tracks to Shazam — even plugging his own marvelous “lgoyh,” which plays at a pivotal moment in the film. And Allen-Miller’s selection of two dark-skinned leads is a much-needed addition to the romcom genre, which has traditionally underrepresented Black love.
Whereas F. Gary Gray’s Friday was a comedy about a day that gets progressively worse, Rye Lane is about a day that gets continuously better, if not funnier and more loving — until an innocent act of breaking and entering slows the pace a bit, allowing both characters to process and grow. In the film’s latter half, Yas shows herself to be tender and vulnerable. Emerging from a troubling relationship with an ex-boyfriend/ sculptor who considers himself to be “an artistic polymath” (but is merely a fake-deep narcissist), Yas lets us see how bold and confident women, especially Black women, are often portrayed as threats and “too much” as opposed to being celebrated for the ways they bring color and detail to the lives they touch. We also see the consequences of prolonging our own healing when we refuse to be honest about our truths, our hurts, and our triggers. And yet, even with all the energy Yas gives to the burglary scene, she needs and deserves protection, making the case that all women deserve Doms who are willing to get slapped in their honor.
Rye Lane eventually comes full-circle, with the duo at another art exhibition, this one featuring asses along with the artist’s message: “We know more about Neptune than the human anus.” What makes the film relatable is how achingly human it all is. Dom and Yas are different sides of the same coin, as are Oparah and Jonsson, who bring these young souls to thrilling life. Meanwhile, Allen-Miller provides a sly mockery of social media culture, having her duo throw around overused terms like “life coach,” “safe space” and “toxic energy,” all the while displaying the ways we’re all each of these things depending on the circumstance. Through Dom and Yas, we learn that “toxic energy” and “safe spaces” can shift at any given time, and love is the only avenue that truly makes sense.
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