Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Yesterday, One Day… There's certainly no shortage of British rom-coms in the cinematic canon, especially those set in London. But while the storylines may have changed (marginally), the casts haven't – people of colour have largely been left out of the genre unless it's a straight-to-streaming-service release.
Enter Rye Lane. One of the first Black British rom-coms to hit silver screens (Boxing Day starring Little Mix's Leigh-Anne Pinnock springs to mind as the other), the directorial debut from Raine Allen-Miller follows the story of Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson) over one long, sunny day in London.
The pair first meet in the bathroom at a mutual friend's art exhibition. Dom is crying over Instagram stories posted by his now-ex girlfriend Gia and her new boyfriend, Eric – Dom's former best friend. Yas hears his sobs in the next stall and asks if he's OK.
While he initially bats her away, asking for a "private moment", she recognises his pink Converse as he emerges from the toilet. The pair end up staring at the same photograph and boom – meet cute cemented.
At first, Dom and Yas seem like complete opposites. Dom is a quiet, heartbroken twenty-something accountant who's just moved back to his family home, spending his days playing video games while his mum makes him dippy eggs and soldiers.
Independent, impulsive Yas, on the other hand, is a bright, bold aspiring costume designer with a sunnier take on life, despite also having recently gone through a breakup. She is far from a one-note character, however – the depth to her story unfolds throughout the movie.
But as the day goes on and the pair move from one iconic South London location to another (Peckhamplex, Rye Lane Market, Morley’s chicken shop, Italian restaurant Il Giardino and Brockwell Park all make an appearance), Dom and Yas get themselves into various situations that make plain they're not as different as they first thought.
In true rom-com formula, there's the build of their initial chemistry, a hopeful kiss, then a devastating blow that threatens to tear them apart. Cue some serious soul searching on the set of a sci-fi film (Yas) and over dippy eggs and soldiers (Dom).
Considering the genre, it's not so much of a spoiler to say that these problems are resolved with a grand gesture that harks back to the start of the movie, where Yas told Dom she broke up with her boyfriend because he was "the kind of person who didn't wave at boats".
Rye Lane is full of energy, with a script that keeps the pace ticking along. Yas is smart and quippy with an infectious smile and zest for life, while Dom is her perfect pairing in terms of balance, shyer and more reserved.
Jonsson is totally loveable in this nuanced role, and it's nice to see a Black male actor allowed to lean into a more stripped-back character type as a romantic lead.
Special mentions also go to Karene Peter, who plays Dom's ex-girlfriend Gia and Benjamin Sarpong-Broni as her new boyfriend, who draws big laughs for his performance of the warm-hearted but slightly dim-witted Eric.
Other star appearances come from Brixton local Levi Roots, comedian and actor Munya Chawawa and a surprise A-lister serving burritos in a place called Love Guac'tually – a nice wink to the Richard Curtis movies that Rye Lane draws inspiration from.
A nice touch also sees Dom wearing a tracksuit by Black British designer Grace Wales Bonner’s collaboration with Adidas in the movie's closing scenes.
Rye Lane is funny, relatable and totally authentic – undoubtedly the benefit of having Black talent both in front of and behind the camera.
The jokes land well and a scene at a back-garden barbecue features all the hallmarks of a classic Caribbean get-together – think singing uncles and Wray & Nephew. While some characters are exaggerated for comedic effect, they never feel overacted.
At a snappy 82 minutes, the film never struggles with pacing, either – we zip quickly through Peckham and Brixton on foot or by moped, set against an original score by producer and composer Kwes and a soundtrack including Stormzy, A Tribe Called Quest and Craig David.
The visual tone for the movie is bright and hopeful, with it making liberal use of a fisheye lens and bold colours. Dom's pink Converse, Yas's purple trainers, Peckham Levels Insta-famous pink steps and the rainbow Rye Lane Market sing in the sunshine, adding a playful feel to this hopeful story of love.
Yas and Dom's romantic flashbacks are some of the standout creative scenes in the movie – the pair appear to watch each other's break ups and romantic dramas from stages or cinema stalls, Yas with popcorn in hand. She's still holding that popcorn as they come out of the flashback and, somehow, it works.
Overall, Rye Lane is a joyous celebration of South London, a triumph for Black British romantic comedy and one of the cutest love stories you'll see on screen this year – go and see it now.
Rye Lane is available to watch now on Disney+ in the UK.
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