Sundance 2023 has been a great festival for crowd-pleasing British movies which prove that the UK has more to offer the world than period films about posh people. Three London-based new movies, all from debut feature-film directors demonstrate the variety of British people and places that we don’t usually see on the big screen. Sundance 2023 has offered us Polite Society (directed by Nida Manzoor), Scrapper (directed by Charlotte Regan), and now Rye Lane (directed by Raine Allen Miller).
Rye Lane takes traditional rom-com tropes and provides a refreshing spin on the material, with the kinds of characters and settings that we don’t usually get to see in the genre. Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) are both trying to get over – and possibly get revenge – on their exes. They meet at the gallery opening of a mutual friend and end up having the kind of magical day that seems to only exist in movies.
We’ve seen this kind of film set in New York over-and-over. But Rye Lane is set in the South London districts of Peckham and Brixton – and Dom and Yas end up walking around, going to markets, eating street food and gradually bonding over their recent break-ups.
Screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia deserve most of the credit for how great of a comedy movie Rye Lane really is, because the script is extremely funny and authentically British (hearing “suck your Mum” in a Sundance movie really brings the British pride – sniff). Things spiral out of control at various points – with Dom being caught with his hands in a knicker-drawer, and them breaking into Yas’ ex-boyfriend’s apartment to retrieve a Tribe Called Quest album. But the dialogue keeps things grounded and real throughout, with Jonsson and Oparah’s performances ringing true.
As Dom and Yas tell each other anecdotes about their exes, the scenes are played out with heightened theatricality. Yas’s break up scene with her pretentious boyfriend plays out on a literal theatre stage, with Dom making up all of the members of the audience. When Dom and Yas pretend that they met doing karaoke and regale the story to Dom’s ex-girlfriend, it becomes a full-blown concert with hoards of screaming fans.
Rye Lane is full of colour, even in non-theatrical scenes, and it’s great seeing parts of London that we don’t often see on cinema screens. The costume design by Cynthia Lawrence-John and production design by Anna Rhodes combine to make scenes pop without going to the extremes of something like Paddington – where nothing looks real. Rye Lane is reminiscent of Michaela Coel’s brilliant Chewing Gum in its bold use of colour.
The soundtrack is another massive strength, with a backyard barbecue scene providing particular hilarity surrounding Terence Trent D’Arby’s Sign Your Name. Between Low End Theory and Sign Your Name, it feels as though the late 80s and early 90s may have been an influence on the film – not just in the music, but inspiring the use of colour (especially yellow and pink) as well.
In terms of rom-com tropes – we’ve got the classic “pretending to be a couple,” as well as the “slowly falling for each other over the course of a day/night in a big city” and the “fight that leads to fall-out just before the big romantic finale.” Romance movie and book fans will delight in seeing the familiar tropes they love play out in a new way, in a setting not usually associated with the genre.
It’s so refreshing to see several British films at Sundance this year that shows a different side to the usual Downton Abbey or The Crown type fare that is often gobbled up in America and beyond. And in Rye Lane – to find a good rom-com (something we’ve been crying out to have more of for years) – that’s really funny, authentic and down-to-earth is something really special. The colour and theatricality feels like it comes from the place rather than forced upon it (looking at you Sex Education and Heartstopper). It’s not trying to be American, it’s a British rom-com, and proud of it.
Rye Lane was partially funded by BBC Films and the BFI, it’s been picked up by Searchlight Pictures and will be coming to Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK on March 31, 2023. It should prove to be very popular and deserves to be a big hit.
Rye Lane review (Sundance 2023)
A refreshing and extremely funny new British rom-com which uses the tropes brilliantly – with the kinds of characters and settings we don’t usually see in the genre. The bold use of colour and heightened theatricality make Rye Lane fun and visually interesting. A very impressive debut from director Raine Allen Miller.