Rye Lane (2023)

“Everyone has a mess.”

Breaking up is hard to do, especially when you’re the unwilling and unwitting recipient. It’s messy, confusing, sometimes even literally debilitating. Rye Lane understands these push and pull dynamics of a modern relationship coasting near a crumbling levy, as well as the ways they work and the ways that they don’t, and it gifts us two people we want to know and cheer for. I can’t remember the last time I saw a romantic comedy that was as funny and dramatic in equal measure as this one. Rye Lane is a crowd pleaser, and is among the best films I’ve seen this year. It deserves all of the flowers and adjectives and honorifics.

I loved the writing here by Nathan Bryon & Tom Melia, and the way they designed the conventional meet-cute between these characters to be in a place as vulnerable as a public bathroom. Dom (David Jonsson) has just been dumped for his best friend and cries in the gender-neutral stall. Yas (Vivian Oparah) is also on the mend after a recent breakup, and makes sure the stranger crying behind closed doors is okay. His pink Converse are recognized later on, banter begins, and their story starts. Rye Lane is a very simple film told in a not so simple way, and it’s a much needed shock of energy to the romantic comedy genre. There’s a rabid pulse to this hearty, heartfelt picture; everything seems to happen in a flash and a flurry. That style makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd, and inevitably makes it too much to handle at times as well. Thankfully it knows when to breathe.

Rye Lane almost pays too reverential an homage to its influences, and it makes for a film that’s somehow both visually brash and narratively conventional. The long walking and talking nature is pulled straight from Richard Linklater. The aggressive and occasional sweeping cuts evoke Sean Baker’s style. And it’s inspired by the likes of the highly sensitive and sentimental Richard Curtis, whose great influence on the British Rom-Com is felt early and often throughout. I wasn’t even sure that the film was going to work or be all that believable, but then director Raine Allen-Miller showed up to bat and ready to swing for the fences. At one point we see Dom meeting his ex with her new partner, his sore and sad visage intentionally positioned in the lower third of the frame, only before he’s lifted up as Yas comes to the rescue. The visual storytelling enhances the narrative poetry we’re already bearing witness to.

At a mere 82 minutes, Rye Lane doesn’t seem to know how to carefully blend the iconic characters’ chance encounter in Before Sunrise with the depth learned and fully realized by older adults in Before Sunset (assuming those are both heavy influences), making for a film that’s undoubtedly one of the year’s best romantic comedies thus far, but also one that feels a bit incomplete, although the end does stick the landing with a flourishing grand gesture. Rye Lane is an avenue where laughs and anger are free to come and go with every breezy and easy feeling, and it’s the type of place where possibility and potential fate can casually meet. This film rubs shoulders with the crowd, flirts with those in the audience, and it’s so damn charming and endearing that I can’t imagine many will be able to resist. So many rom-coms leave viewers with upset stomachs because they’re so excessively sweet. Rye Lane ditches the saccharine for more substantive material, and dusts just a little powdered sugar over the top for the sake of balance. It sticks with you.

“Do you wanna go for a stroll?”

Rating 4 out of 5

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