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Rye Lane

Directed by Raine Allen-Miller

Review by Delon Jessop


Rye Lane, the directorial debut of Raine Allen-Miller with a screenplay by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, is a vibrant and energetic rom-com set in the bustling heart of Peckham, southeast London. The film opens with the protagonist Dom (David Jonsson), sobbing in a bathroom cubicle at the launch of his friend’s art exhibition. A stranger, Yas (Vivian Oparah), overhears and takes the opportunity to give him some friendly advice. This chance encounter provides the foundations for the ensuing story. The pair take us on a whistle-stop tour of Peckham, with each scene interspersed with flashbacks, gradually shedding light on their old flames.

Peckham is populated with a rich mix of migrant communities, from Caribbean to African, Turkish to Indian. Such areas have had an untold influence on the cultural output of London, and have helped shape the way we now look at British culture. The film’s name is taken directly from the high street which runs right through the heart of Peckham. Many of Rye Lane’s landmarks are featured, including the pulsating marketplace at the film’s beginning. Yas’s playful exchange with a market vendor is indicative of the type of conversations heard regularly on this extraordinary street. 

David Jonsson delivers a tender portrayal of Dom, a young man still struggling to come to terms with being dumped by his girlfriend. His nuanced performance avoids the easy cues often indexed to the rom-com leading man. The warm familiarity of his performance makes me recall the times when I’ve been on best mate duties, buying the round in pubs, letting your pal spill their guts out to you, all whilst proclaiming ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea’.

While Jonsson has us consider all our failed romances, Oparah’s energetic performance as Yas is what truly keeps the film driving forward. She seizes on every opportunity to display her impressive repertoire of facial expressions, something the director exploits through a series of close-up shots. Her devil-may-care attitude is enough to draw Dom out of his cautious existence, and into a world of unpredictability.  Despite the self-assurance Yas exudes, we soon learn that she is forced to contend with her own imperfections, exposing the flawed ideals she has maintained about her past lover.

Allen-Miller presents a number of deeply uncomfortable episodes from the protagonists’ past relationships. Despite this, she never lets us sit with this feeling for too long, often juxtaposing those moments with the sharpest observational humour, best exemplified when Dom agrees to go for a meal with his ex, Gia, and her new partner, to ‘clear the air’. The framing allows us to experience the excruciating exchanges first hand, cleverly switching between Dom and Gia’s points of view. 

As with most rom-coms, Rye Lane also wraps up with a tidy and satisfying conclusion. This film never professes to re-invent the wheel. What it does is provide a joyful tale, showcasing some of the UK’s most exciting up-and-coming talents. Despite the obvious impact of migrant communities in shaping present day London, we are still deprived of stories rooted in such places; only a handful have made it into wider circulation. Raine Allen-Miller’s feature comes as a breath of fresh air, reinforcing the necessity for more stories from under-represented communities on the big screen.