Reeling from a breakup and trying to make sense of why his ex left him, Dom (David Jonsson) happens upon free-wheeling, artistic Yas (Vivian Oparah), who is herself getting over a breakup in a much different way. Determined to get a vinyl back from her ex's apartment, the two journey across South London to get it back and, in doing so, begin to find themselves drawn to one another...
There's just something so damn appealing about watching attractive, charming people flirt with each other and trying to make each other laugh.
Whether you're single, happily or unhappily married, in a breakup or a divorce, in a not-quite-sure-what-this-is with someone, you can't help but smile coyly when you see two people radiate towards one another - either on screen or right in front of you. It's why romantic comedies and dramas set in a day involving a meet-cute are often some of the best - 'Before Sunrise', 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist', 'Same Time, Next Year'. Yet, 'Rye Lane' has more in common with early Spike Lee, specifically 'She's Gotta Have It', than anything else, in that it transports you so fully to a place and brings it to life on screen without sacrificing any of its integrity.
What 'Rye Lane' does and is so frequently overlooked in modern romantic comedies and dramas is that it gives equal weight and circumstance to both characters and the place they find themselves wandering around. Yas and Dom, played with real verve and life by Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson, both have their own lives, their own foibles, their own heartache, and they're both handling them in different ways. Dom has gone into himself, questioning whether he's too boring and stable to be worth someone, while Yas is lashing out and keen to even the score whenever she can. The whole movie kicks off in earnest when she invites herself to a dinner with Dom's ex and her new squeeze, with Yas improvising an entire backstory for how they met.
From there, first-time feature director Raine Allen-Miller and screenwriters Tom Melia and Nathan Byron take us on a breezy, colour-filled tour of South London, taking in the sights and sounds of Rye Lane Market, Brixton Village, Peckham, and all of it with the kind of love and admiration you can only get from those who know a place intimately. What's more, you're even treated to a cameo or two along the way - including one romantic comedy icon working a themed burrito stand. All while you're taking in this in, Yas and Dom talk earnestly and openly to each other, their connection quick and apparent, both of them weaving together their stories of heartbreak and hope as they potter around town.
'Rye Lane' has that wonderful feeling of a warm summer's evening, nothing planned or anywhere to be, but open and optimistic, like you're willing to follow a bit of music down a laneway to see where it's coming from, or stopping off somewhere cute for a drink and a chat with someone you haven't seen in a while. It's got a familiarity to it, a confident sense of itself that never feels forced or obvious. Yes, it can sometimes feel too sweet for its own good, and its reliance on romantic comedy stalwarts means it's not breaking any new ground, but 'Rye Lane' has so much else going for it - a great cast, wonderful music, vibrant cinematography, pacy editing, actually funny dialogue! - that you can easily overlook any faults.
If you walk out of 'Rye Lane' and your face is a little sore, don't be alarmed. That's because you've been smiling at the screen for 82 minutes and you didn't realise it.