‘Rye Lane’ is a Note-Perfect Entry into the British Rom-Com Canon

Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) smile at each other, talking animatedly, as they walk down the hallway of an indoor market

David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in 'Rye Lane.'

Chris Harris/Searchlight Pictures/© 2022 20th Century Studios

Following in the footsteps of beloved movies like Before Sunrise and Love Actually, Rye Lane brings a fresh perspective to the genre while hitting every hallmark of a classic rom-com. The film stars Vivian Oparah (Class) as bold and bubbly Yas and David Jonsson (Industry) as sweet mama’s boy Dom. They’re two twentysomethings who meet by chance and spend the day together in London’s Peckham neighborhood, grappling with past heartbreak — and opening their hearts anew in the process.

Yas, an aspiring costume designer with big dreams and a quick wit, encounters Dom, a shy accountant living with his parents as he nurses a broken heart, in the bathroom at a mutual friend’s art opening when she hears him crying in a bathroom stall. This kicks off a day of adventure in which Yas follows Dom to a meeting with his ex-girlfriend, Dom helps Yas attempt a heist of her A Tribe Called Quest record from her ex-boyfriend, and they meet the vibrant characters who populate Peckham.

At the outset, Yas appears to have fully recovered from heartbreak, and Dom seems to be closed to love completely. However, as they exchange embarrassing anecdotes and witty banter, they (and the audience) realize that everything is not as it seems. All the best rom-coms lead viewers to fall in love with the protagonists as they fall in love with each other, and Rye Lane is no exception. Oparah and Jonsson have infectious grins and undeniable chemistry that might have you smiling at your TV screen as they smile at each other.

Director Raine Allen Miller creates a colorful world for two equally dynamic characters written with wit and charm by screenwriters Nathan Bryon (Bloods) and Tom Melia (Hollyoaks). Every aspect of the film, from the setting to the aesthetics to the soundtrack, is unabashedly Black and British. Bryon said of the movie in an interview with Cinamore, “It’s Black joy. It’s Black love. You walk and hopefully fall in love with these two characters who meet on a day in London.” Today’s film landscape has seen a small but growing number of Black British rom-coms. Rye Lane has burst onto the scene to show audiences and studios what they’re missing by not highlighting these stories. This movie is the perfect example of the adage that in writing, specificity creates universality. Even if you’ve never tasted a Gregg’s sausage roll or listened to a single track from The Low End Theory, Rye Lane welcomes you into Yas and Dom’s world with open arms and invites you to remember the community that raised you in your twenties.

Like most romantic comedies, the plot requires a slight suspension of disbelief to square how the protagonists end up following each other around for an entire day (and engaging in some petty crime together just hours after meeting.) The film plays up its surreal elements with fantastical flashbacks and imaginary sequences. These scenes also break up the potential monotony of watching two people simply walk around for a large part of the movie.

As much as Rye Lane is a love story between its protagonists, it is also a love letter to life in your twenties. Yas and Dom encapsulate the tension between where they are, where they want to be, and what they can afford. They candidly discuss the struggles and merits of living at home (or back home, as Dom insists on calling it), balancing artistic passion with paying the bills and moving on from a first serious relationship. Like its protagonists, Rye Lane is fresh and current but not overly reliant on the latest tech and lingo. This makes it a film that will likely age well and appeal to a broad audience. Its most 2023-referential scenes come when the film lambasts characters who speak in Gen Z/millennial platitudes like “live in your truth” and “toxic energy.”

Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) stand facing each other on the sidewalk in front of a colorful fruit vendor

David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in 'Rye Lane.'

Chris Harris/Searchlight Pictures/© 2022 20th Century Studios 

Rye Lane follows a note-perfect adherence to the rom-com plot structure, and it isn’t afraid to remind audiences that it stands proudly among the greats of recent film history. One character name-checks Wes Anderson (whose style has been widely used to describe the visuals of Rye Lane) in an early scene. Later in the film, Yas and Dom encounter an Easter egg nod to British rom-com royalty Love Actually. There are occasional moments and lines of dialogue that could come off as twee to a more cynical viewer, but if you give yourself over to the film’s earnestness, all can be forgiven. Of course, you can’t have the “rom” without the “com,” and Rye Lane delivers on the comedy front. It balances the characters’ heartfelt conversations with laugh-out-loud banter, slapstick, and a rather astonishing amount of literal toilet humor.

The film’s setting, the South London neighborhood of Peckham, acts almost as a third character, nudging Yas and Dom closer together and drawing in the audience. The South London area may not be familiar to most American viewers, but consider this a tourism brochure for Peckham. The neighborhood is a feast for the senses, brought to life as Yas and Dom traverse a backyard cookout, a thumping karaoke bar, and the candy-colored shops of an indoor market.

Like the setting, the film’s cinematography and costumes are hyper-realistic and bursting with color. Cinematographer Olan Collardy makes ample use of creative angles and lenses. Collardy uses enough fisheye lens to make you think you’re watching MTV, which is apt considering that the film also features a soundtrack of dance-in-your-seat hip-hop hits. Yas’s costume design career naturally fits in a movie with its own eye-catching costumes. To highlight their opposites-attract love story, costume designer Cynthia Lawrence-John dresses Yas in warm colors and Dom in cool colors, except for his pink converse, which draws the two together in the first place.

At a pivotal moment in the film, Yas explains to Dom that there are two kinds of people: people who wave at passing boats and people who hate joy. In that vein, there are two kinds of movie-viewers: people who adore Rye Lane and people who hate joy. If you fall into the first category, Rye Lane is available to stream on Hulu now.

Author Emma O’Neill-Dietel

Emma O’Neill-Dietel is a writer, educator, and history nerd from Philadelphia, PA. She eats, sleeps, and breathes Doctor Who but has been known to enjoy other British TV and movies too. She may love British media but don’t get it twisted; she’s Irish through and through. Follow her on Threads: @emmaod22.

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