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Rye Lane review – vibrant and romantic passport to Peckham

First-time director Raine Allen-Miller's brilliantly infectious and funny rom-com brings the streets of south London to colourful life

Too many London rom-coms feel washed of vibrancy and personality, so you know Rye Lane is something special from the moment our leads step out onto the streets of Peckham. The love that director Raine Allen-Miller and writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia feel for South London is visible in every frame; it’s expressed so frequently and so creatively that the day you spend with the two lead characters feels like a lifetime.

Yas (Vivian Oparah) discovers Dom (David Jonsson) crying in a cubicle after seeing Boomerangs of his ex and best friend plastered over social media. Moved by sympathy or nosiness, she moseys around Peckham with him, gently and then enthusiastically picking at his disastrous personal life. Their surroundings light up around them like they’re in the world of a musical – there’s no bursting into song, but the streets seem to speak back to them in colourful, expressive ways.

In a film of exclusively well-pitched comic performances, Jonsson’s infectiously playful grin has its moments, but Oparah steals the show. It’s possible you’ve never seen a person as confident as Yas, bouncing between unfiltered thoughts with a giddy conviction that keeps drawing you closer. A key scene where she crashes a lunch with Dom’s ex is a highlight of her hysterical power, and demands as raucous and responsive an audience as possible – Rye Lane deserves all the opening night cheers and claps usually reserved for tentpole blockbusters.

There’s something beautiful about realising you want to extend the time spent with another person, sticking around each other until the sheer duration of your hang-out says all the things you needed more time to tell them. There’s a pervasive flirtiness to Yas and Dom’s day, expressed in a myriad of unexpected ways; there can be something ridiculously sexual about the first time someone suggests getting a drink, or pushing someone to change their plans to “see what happens.”

Rye Lane interweaves its emotional journey with the passing of the day, so our growing eagerness to see something blossom between Yas and Dom matches the changing, tactile feeling of the afternoon, then evening, then… what next? Both of them, and all of us, are hooked by the appeal of a hermetically sealed unit of time away from the complicated drudgery of the real world with someone who genuinely excites you.

The story may be simple enough, but Rye Lane deserves credit for pushing its characters to rethink their hang-ups in a mostly natural way. As we ramp up towards the end, the about-turns Yas and Dom are structurally obligated to make about each other might feel overly abrupt, but it’s all in service of a delightful coda that confirms how ardently you want a happy ending for them. No other film this year will compel you to shout “Just kiss!” as much as this.

Rye Lane was screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2023. It is released in UK cinemas on 17 March.

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