Sundance 2023: Rye Lane Review
Director Raine Allen-Miller has created a delightful take on the Before Sunrise formula, with the Sundance 2023 film Rye Lane, set in a very unique part of Southeast London
On its face, Rye Lane, the new film from director Raine Allen-Miller that premiered at Sundance, sounds like it’s from the cinematic tradition of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and its sequels and imitators: It’s about a man and woman who have just met, walking around a European city for the better part of a day.
But Rye Lane is different and special. It has a highly unique look and makes fine use of the Peckham neighborhood of Southeast London. And it’s buoyed by two charming leads, David Jonsson (who plays Dom) and Vivian Oparah (Yas.) And it’s quick and breezy, running for just over 80 minutes.
The film’s conceit is that they’ve both recently been dumped in a humiliating fashion, meeting by chance in a gender-neutral bathroom at a quirky art exhibition, and they decide to join forces. First, she’ll pose as his girlfriend in a meeting with his ex — who has dumped him for his best friend and now seeks his blessing for that relationship — and then they’ll assist one another in other capers.
Over the course of the long day, there are confrontations with exes, professional disappointments, and exhibitions to steal valued record albums. And, as you may have guessed, the two start to develop romantic feelings of their own before long.
With the film’s style, look, and pace, Rye Lane feels like it’s announcing the arrival of a new cinematic voice in the British filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller, one that offers the coolest, most original look of any film at this year’s Sundance.
Is it “twee”? Perhaps it is, and lots of early reviews have compared it to the work of Wes Anderson, which is true in terms of color palette choices, but not so much when it comes to shot compositions. The film focuses on early ’90s hip-hop touchstones like Salt ‘n’ Pepa, which it’s hard to imagine Anderson ever putting in a film. And besides, I usually love things that are described as “twee.”
The filmmaker has also chosen a great location, a part of London with many immigrants from different parts of Africa and the Caribbean. I’m not going to say the Peckham neighborhood has never been used for a film before — parts of Antonioni’s Blow-Up were shot there, in fact — but it’s never quite been made a main character in this way.
The lead actors are also both outstanding, giving us sympathetic characters despite their messiness. Both stars are better known as London theater actors, although Jonsson is a regular on the HBO show Industry (he plays the gay, Black, rich finance guy, Gus), while Oparah had a small part on I May Destroy You.
It’s all helped along by a witty script, credited to Nathan Byron and Tom Melia — one that lets the characters be huge messes in a way most romcoms don’t — plus fine cinematography by Olan Collardy.
Produced with the help of various BBC entities, Rye Lane is set for a March 31 streaming release on Hulu, via Fox Searchlight. I can see it really emerging as a sleeper hit this spring.