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Sundance 2023 Review: Director Raine Allen-Miller Delivers an Impressive Feature Debut With ‘Rye Lane’

Sundance 2023 Review: Director Raine Allen-Miller Delivers an Impressive Feature Debut With ‘Rye Lane’

If you were to ask me to say what I thought of the Searchlight Pictures film Rye Lane in one sentence, it would be: “It’s a saccharin-filled rom-com with a heartwarming story.”

Words like “saccharine” and “heartwarming” attached to rom-coms can sometimes turn off some viewers. However, don’t let those adjectives repel you from Rye Lane. In fact, those adjectives do not even begin to describe how incredibly quirky, whimsical, and refreshing this movie is. There you go — perhaps those adjectives will persuade you to stick around. And who could ever get sick of rom-coms when we have The Best Man: The Final Chapters showing us how much we appreciate Black love in cinema?

Directed by Raine Allen-Miller, Rye Lane tells the story of two 20-something Londoners meandering their way aimlessly through the Peckham neighborhood via various karaoke bars and playgrounds. Dom (David Jonsson) is dealing with a breakup with his girlfriend and is pretty broken up about it. And he has every reason to be — she cheated on him with his best friend. Meanwhile, Yas (Vivian Oparah) discovers Dom crying his eyes out on the toilet (it’s a co-ed bathroom, by the way) and is curious about what has happened. Dom does not realize it at this point in the narrative, but Yas has her own ex-boyfriend baggage that she’s dealing with, and those wounds have yet to heal. This is where the magic happens, when these two soulmates connect. 

Dom and Yas have some interesting misadventures meeting their respective exes — first Dom meeting with his ex and his best friend at a restaurant. Yas lies on his behalf and says she’s his new girlfriend, embarrassing him in the process while also defending his honor by demonstrating how much of a joke his ex is for cheating on him with his best friend. It’s at this point in the story when the two begin to form a friendship that slowly blossoms throughout the film. We the viewers become invested in both of these characters as they are trying to navigate through their own issues in their previous relationships.

The tables turn when Dom finds out that Yas has been hiding information about her ex and how their relationship ended. This compromises the integrity of their friendship. 

Rye Lane takes you on a journey of colorful whimsical adventures between the two protagonists during its 82 minutes of running time. And when I say colorful, I’m being literal here. The production design on this film is absolutely incredible. Props to production designer Anna Rhodes for giving this movie character with its beautiful hues that add a sweet idiosyncratic flavor to the film. The balance is just right, and tonally it doesn’t go overboard with its style artistically.

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As for the performances in this film, I loved Jonsson’s performance as Dom. He’s a great eye actor. What I mean when I say that is, the way he expresses and emotes using his eyes is pretty remarkable. He can act in a scene without saying anything and just use his eyes to articulate what he is trying to communicate, and we know exactly what he is trying to say. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, and you find yourself rooting for them the moment they connect on-screen. 

For fans of the film Love Actually, one of the most popular British romantic comedies — or at least British holiday rom-coms — of all time, you will appreciate a cameo by one of its cast members in Rye Lane. It’s quite evident that the filmmakers pay homage to Love Actually with the star’s appearance. It’s pretty funny and very well done, I might add.

Rye Lane doesn’t come without its typical rom-com tropes that make it so predictable that you know exactly how the movie is going to end. However, every good rom-com should have a fairy-tale ending. If it doesn’t, is it really a rom-com?

Predictability aside, the film makes up for it with its quirky storytelling, luminous cinematography, alluring performances, and sense of humor. You can also tell this movie is not trying to take itself too seriously. I found myself just smiling throughout the film, scene by scene, for no reason. Perhaps it was because it was refreshing to see how cute and quirky this was or just because the movie was flirty, fun, and entertaining and didn’t try so hard.

Rye Lane is an impressive feature debut from Allen-Miller, and I look forward to seeing more projects from her. And if you have a list of Black films you want to see this year, add Rye Lane to it.

Unlike the many films at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival that do not yet have a distributor or a release date, Rye Lane has both — through Searchlight Pictures, the movie will premiere March 31, 2023, on Hulu. The film made its debut January 23 at Sundance and will run through the end of the fest. 

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