Lately, the romcom has felt like a genre in decline. No longer the box-office draw it was in the ’90s, it has largely been exiled to the realm of streamer cheapies, with only veteran taliswomen like Jennifer Lopez and her wedding-industrial complex boldly keeping the meet-cute flame burning. Then along comes something like Rye Lane — and suddenly a once-stale corner of cinema feels invigorated with possibilities. It is, quite simply, utterly delightful.
There is no particular reinvention of the romantic-comedy wheel here — in Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson), it has its own will-they-won’t-they-obviously-they-will merry dance — but first-time director Raine Allen-Miller has given that wheel a fresh coat of brightly coloured paint and a shot of nuclear-nitro energy. There is craft and care here, in a genre that too often settles for utilitarian blandness. It strikes you most immediately — from the opening tracking shot along the top of a series of toilet stalls — how lively and stylish and visually interesting every frame is; Allen-Miller practically grabs your eyes by the sockets and coats them in colour.
This is partly reflective of the film’s South East London setting (it is filmed entirely on location in Peckham and Brixton) — its diverse, historic market stalls and newly gentrified Instagrammable quirkiness all given centre stage in generous wide-angle lenses. The film takes care to establish a real sense of place, the screen always humming with life. (South Londoners, in particular, will take some geeky pleasure at the geographical correctness of the characters’ journey.)
This is a warm, fun, instantly likeable story, centred around two ridiculously charismatic young leads in Oparah and Jonsson.
But that visual poppiness (which extends to everything from editing to costume choices —note Dom’s natty pink Converse shoes) is also a reflection of the tone. This is a warm, fun, instantly likeable story, centred around two ridiculously charismatic young leads in Oparah and Jonsson, who share a vivid chemistry. They are, as tradition dictates, opposites who attract: he is a weepy romantic who wears his heart on his sleeve, she is a confident, fast-talking risk-taker. Soon enough, their differences become similarities.
The script, by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, places value in the simplicity of a conversation, and like a goofily Gen-Z Before Sunrise, a huge chunk of the film allows these two young people simply to hang out and get to know each other. Refreshingly, unlike most previous capital-set romcoms (rhymes with ‘Schmotting Schmill’), it is also far more representative of the diversity of London’s neighbourhoods, Oparah and Jonsson joined by an almost entirely Black British cast. (There is also, notably, a cameo by a former romcom regular that will make you howl.)
Seemingly by design, it’s light and maybe slight — the biggest stakes here involve retrieving an old vinyl album — and it ends on a final act that creaks on its formula, also suffering somewhat by moving the action into the less-colourful central London. But these are minor quibbles. At 82 minutes, it’s sprightly, light-footed, and leaves you on a high. The romcom is back!