Non-Londoners might think of the UK’s capital as a single city, the perceived interchangeability of its districts and locations exemplified by many films set in London, but it’s geographically obsessed, with characters walking from Chelsea Bridge to the heart of Soho in a matter of minutes. . Residents know its quarters are so disparate that they are entirely separate ecosystems, with the River Thames separating north from south London and a hypothetical equator running through the city.
Those who have toured the Big Smoke via films – in particular, the trivialities of London of Working Title and the quintessential, exportable ‘Paddington’ images – are all too familiar with the leafier, genteel streets to the north and west, with the increasingly bourgeois East scrutinized of late. But the South’s diverse and dynamic neighborhoods have received less than they deserved on screen, as Raine Allen-Miller’s stellar romantic comedy aims to make things right.
Named for the street that forms Peckham’s commercial backbone, it aims to do so for that once neglected – though now fast becoming – neighborhood of south-east London as Richard Curtis and Roger Michell did for Notting Hill back in the day, Ray Lane is an unabashed urban love letter, gliding over the parks, bars, and mix-and-match markets of the Chosen District at least as much as it does over the bright, open faces of the young lovers in its midst. Or future lovers, for the most part of its delightfully fleeting 82-minute runtime — Nathan Brion and Tom Melia’s script leaves us in no doubt about their fate since their first sweetly awkward encounter.
From there on, “Rye Lane” hits every beat expected of modern romantic comedies, from seduction to confusion to brief separations to blissful reconciliation. Neither the director nor the writers (all first-timers) are out to subvert or remake the genre, but instead to claim it for a demographic—specifically, young black Britain—which British cinema has rarely presented in such a genre or romantic light. While it’s sure to be embraced with enthusiasm on home soil, this Searchlight photo release should translate easily enough abroad, channeling the industry’s direction toward its powerfully talented makers and, hopefully, making crossover stars from pioneers David Johnson and Vivian O’Barah particularly flamboyant. .
Chemistry, the most important and elusive romantic element, spits and sparks between the two before they come face to face, in a cleverly choreographed opening scene. Overhearing shy accountant Dom (Johnson) sobbing in a unisex bathroom stall at Beckham’s makeshift art gallery, aspiring fashion designer Yas (Oprah) gives him some anonymous advice before leaving him in peace—only to learn of a bubblegum-pink Converse kicking across the room minutes later. As the conversation resumes, it emerges that they are both nursing a recent breakup, with Yas more stoic than Dom. And so the stage is set for the story of a one-day-life relationship, as the two strangers walk and talk from Peckham to neighboring Brixton and back, crushing on each other all the while.
Within this framework, Brion and Melia fit into a few choreographed comic artworks — the quickest and funniest of which sees Yas pretending to be Dom’s steady girlfriend in a peace-making meeting with ex Gia (Karen Peter) and her lackluster new beau Eric (deadpan scene-thief Benjamin Sarpong-Bruni). ). The subsequent adventure involving Yas’ ex’s apartment break-in is more tense and sprawling, though it does include a near-ordered karaoke scene that sees them adorably compliment “Shoop” at Salt-N-Pepa. But “Rye Lane” is most winning at its most relaxed, revealing two improbably compatible personalities over graceful, well-observed conversation.
As in other fast-starting inline novels like Before Sunrise or Brief Encounter, this disjointed, gently brooding setup only works if we’re as into the characters as we are into each other, and Oparah and Jonsson were just about irresistible. Its tense, restless energy cleverly modernizes the various English romantic character polished by the likes of Hugh Grant and Colin Firth – but with a timely hint of Gen-Z neurosis in the mix. It works in pleasing contrast to Oparah’s sweet extroversion, which is saved from manic-pixie-dreamgirl cliché by salty quips and snappy delivery.
All together, they’re both fresh and infectious young man, in a way that doesn’t smack of pandering or focal assembly, but feels authentically inspired by city sidewalks, while the film’s best writing plays like the dialogue heard in a coffee shop that you just have to jot down. If filmmaking sometimes veers into precious, exotic territory that the script and performance avoid — with Olan Collardi’s suave, sultry lenses leaning a bit too thin on wide-angle lenses — Cynthia Lawrence-John’s eclectic, sharply color-averse costumes and Kwes’ silky neo-neo-soul score match. Totally with the money. And if “Rye Lane” screws up its formula ever so slightly by exceeding its now-tight one-day timeframe, you can’t blame the film for wanting to spend more time with its eminently lovable fans – or sending London’s unloved South Side back on track. Pink Valentine.
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