An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dan Webster reviews "Rye Lane"


I’ll just say this up front: Rye Lane, an English-made romance now streaming on Hulu, is a perfect cure for anyone feeling burned out by bad news. And let’s face it, bad news is just about all that is making headlines these days.

Directed by Raine Allen-Miller, and starring David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah, the film at barely 82 minutes is a brief but upbeat look at how two characters meet, flirt, connect, share mutual stories of broken relationships while embarking on a joint adventure before an obligatory disagreement causes them to go separate ways—until good sense prevails.

And almost all of this occurs in a single day.

Johnsson plays Dom, a professional guy—he’s an accountant who actually enjoys what he does for a living—who, when we meet him, is suffering from a broken heart. Seems his longtime live-in girlfriend Gia (played by Karene Peter) dumped him for his former best friend Eric (played by Benjamin Sarpong-Broni).

Which is why we find him in a bathroom stall, crying. And which is how Yas (played by Oparah) discovers him. To his surprise, and embarrassment, the bathroom at this particular art gallery is an “inclusive” one—meaning unisex.

When they emerge, separately, and tour the current art show—featuring a series of photos of, strangely enough, mouths taken by one of Dom’s arty friends—Yas recognizes the guy she heard crying because of his pink Converse sneakers. He doesn’t recognize her, yet the two pretty soon are talking and communing in the lighthearted way that often happens when mutually compatible souls first meet.

They don’t really connect, though, until Yas crashes a meeting between Dom, Gia and Eric—a meeting designed supposedly to "clear the air,” but most likely a means by which Gia can further torment her former partner. Pretending to be Dom’s new girlfriend, Yas calls out both Gia and Eric for doing Dom wrong. And just that quickly, Dom—the perpetually nice guy—is free. Not just from heartbreak, but able now to pursue this intriguing new presence in his life.

Yas, of course, has her own story to tell, one involving both her frustrated desire to become a movie costume designer, and her ex: an irritatingly self-assured conceptual artist named Jules (played by Malcolm Atobrah). It is he, she says, who still possesses her favorite LP. And that LP then becomes the McGuffin that prompts Dom and Yas to careen around London on Yas’ moped looking for a key to Jules’ apartment because, despite Dom’s discomfort, Yas wants to get the record back.

When Jules surprises them by showing up unexpectedly, his new squeeze in tow, the truth about Yas’ relationship—and how it ended—is revealed. And so are the lies that she has been telling Dom.

All of this follows the standard rom-com template. But director Allen-Miller manages to give everything a fresh, contemporary and nouveau British feel. Set in the South London district of Peckham, Rye Lane—from which the movie takes its name—is a popular shopping district. And Peckham itself is one of the UK’s most diverse areas, its population being roughly 50 percent Black.

The fact that both Dom and Yas are themselves Black is never made out to be more than what it simply is. The specter of racism isn’t addressed directly, with the film content to explore how our protagonists forge through their respective daily experiences, being both English and Black at once; two young people on the cusp of adulthood discovering someone they consider special.

As for the lane itself, it becomes almost a third character, with Allen-Miller’s camera capturing a colorful cross-section of city life that feels both humorous and reassuring, pointedly avoiding controversial topics such as the potential harm of creeping gentrification or the threat of street crime.

The main focus remains on Dom and Yas, well played by Jonsson and Oparah, each character coming to the realization that troubles and worries—from heartbreak to stunted career aspirations—tend to work out in the end. And that in the midst of what feels like emotional darkness, a light in the form of someone new could be just a bathroom stall away.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for