Reel Reviews | Rye Lane (Sundance ’23)

by Tim Gordon

On the worst day of his life, a young man’s pain fuels a stranger’s empathy as she attempts to take his mind off his broken heart. The result is that in helping him heal, she opens herself up to reveal her own secrets in one of the festival’s most pleasant surprises, Rye Lane.

After discovering that his girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend, Dom (David Jonsson) is heartbroken. Sobbing in a public bathroom stall, his pitiful cries are heard by Yaz (Vivian Oparah) who observes his pink Converse high tops and shares with him that despite his need for privacy, it’s simply not private enough for him to emote publicly. After composing himself, Dom rejoins his artist friend’s art exhibit where Yaz comes over to lift his spirits.

Later, she invites Dom to hang out, initially feeling sorry for him but as time passes, she discovers that he makes her laugh and the feeling is mutual. After an extended period of enjoyment, Dom shares with Yaz that he is meeting his ex and his best friend for closure. As Dom is suffering through the humiliation of watching his ex living her best life, Yaz shows up to bail out Dom. Not content to let them know that Dom has a new girlfriend, she carves up his ex and her new man, leaving her jaw on the table. Feeling exhilarated, Dom and Yaz hit the streets of Brixton for an exciting night of adventure.

This warm and funny film marks the directorial debut of Raine Allen Miller, based on a screenplay from Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, Rye Lane is a revelation, a smart romantic comedy featuring two young attractive Brits. Jonsson (Industry) and Oparah are wonderful together with chemistry bursting off the charts. It is rare to witness two people coming together to make a movie, making coming together onscreen look so effortless. Bryon and Melia’s screenplay puts them in several potentially awkward situations and each time their natural chemistry not just sells it to the audience but makes them feel warm inside, as well.

The biggest compliment that one can pay to Miller’s work is that it feels like her story could exist in the same universe, albeit, on the other side of town from Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. While both films take place in London, each film successfully invokes the warm sensation of watching two people coming together and slowly finding a place where each can exist with the other in their own romantic space.

The film also works because the screenwriter’s understood that while Dom’s situation paints him in a less-than-flattering light, at his core he is an incredibly nice guy who is just suffering through a very bad time. It is that quality that Yaz responds to, and she becomes the answer to what becomes of the broken-hearted. After picking up Dom after an encounter with his ex, he returns the favor for Yaz when she is asked to perform a karaoke song in front of a room full of strangers. Incredibly shy, she refuses to take the stage. But it is Dom who comes to her rescue performing Salt & Pepa’s Shoop before Yaz reluctantly joins him the two burn the stage up, much to the delight of the club’s patrons. There seems there is no limit to what the two can accomplish together.

Featuring a funky score, winning direction, and enough twists and turns to keep you invested in their journey, Rye Lane is a thoroughly enjoyable story about two broken people who once they get together activate happy feelings, and that works no matter whatever lane you find yourself in.

Grade: A