From "Obvious Child" to "Palm Springs," the Sundance Film Festival has become a trusted source for small, distinctive films in the genre. This year, the festival's lineup yields the delightful "Rye Lane," which takes a simple narrative and infuses it with warm performances and a distinct sense of place.
Raine Allen-Miller's debut film is short, but packed with emotion. In the South London area of Peckham, the two will-be lovers first meet each other in a loo at an art show, and they embark on a day of defying responsibility and negotiating their own heartbreak.
Audiences will long for Allen-Miller's heroes to get together, but will also likely crave the burritos they eat, and desire to grab a few pints and crisps with them. It's both a vibrant introduction to a part of the city that, at least this American, was unaware of, and a calling card for an emerging filmmaker who believes that filming two people should be as visually engaging as anything else in cinemas.
When Yas (Vivian Oparah) hears Dom's whimpers, he jumps headfirst into the scene. He is an accountant. She is a costume designer. Can I make it any more obvious?
As their hijinks go into the evening, Dom begins to embrace Yas's more carefree outlook toward life. To Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop," Dom announces he'll meet up with his ex, who has also cheated on him since childhood.
Jonsson creates an easy-going romantic lead despite all of Dom's neuroses. He is unassuming, and he has an unassuming charm that creeps up on you that stands in counter to Oparah's uncanny charm. Yas uses her own strength to mask the seductive freedom that Dom wears on his sleeve, and Oparah mixes her own woundedness to enormous effect.
Allen-Miller's stylistic flourishes include fisheye shots, close-ups, and extended flashbacks where the characters revisit their previous experiences. Some of it comes from the surroundings of Peckham, such as the multi-hued landscape signs or the painted gates on Rye Lane Market, but others are entirely her own creation.
And while the plot may initially seem a bit off, Allen-Miller's energetic approach to filming Dom and Yas' adventures makes up for any lack of narrative. But as "Rye Lane" nears its conclusion, the stakes can feel quite low.
"Before Sunrise" is an obvious influence for "Rye Lane," because it resembles Richard Linklater's beloved story of rambling, getting-to-know-you events. However, I detect, if not a complete rebuke, then a sort of answer to another Richard: Richard Curtis. "Notting Hill" is a fictional area in London, which serves as a backdrop for the romantic bond between white people and white friends.
"Rye Lane" is a film that highlights the staggeringly diverse population of its settings and centers on Black love. If you need further proof that there is Curtis DNA, see a quick cameo from one of his regulars that I will not spoil here. That unnamed person is the only major star in the feature, so here's hoping it will find its audience when it launches on Hulu via Searchlight later this spring.
The film "Rye Lane" was presented at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will be available on Hulu on March 31.