The romantic comedy has always been an integral part of film history — but not without its fair share of ups and downs. From the early classics such as “It Happened One Night” to later incarnations like “When Harry Met Sally,” the genre’s form has been able to rise to the top of film discussions time and time again. But in recent years, rom-coms have hit a bit of a snag.
These films have almost been completely co-opted by Netflix, which stuffs them with actors that have all the looks but none of the personality, reading lines off a script that might as well be written by poorly programmed AI. It’s yet to be determined if “Rye Lane,” a new rom-com released on Hulu by first-time director Raine Allen-Miller, will be the film to breathe life back in the genre. A pessimist would say it probably isn’t. Still, the film presents a very promising glimmer of hope. With a clear stylistic vision and actors playing characters that feel like actual people, the movie is a much needed creative endeavor in this time-honored cinematic tradition.
The rom-com is able to persist because its structure has been battle-tested for nearly a century. Two subjects, both in a precarious position in their lives one way or another, meet by some quirk of fate. The chemistry between them is immediately palpable and their lives are flipped upside down after their first meeting. The bond grows and grows until a crucial moment tears them apart. But ultimately the relationship they formed is stronger than any petty differences that can get in the way, and they stroll off into the sunset happier than ever before. “Rye Lane” never breaks free from this rigid mold, and because of that, it works. In sticking closely to the standard rhythms of the rom-com, the film reveals an honest humanity that exists just under the surface of what can easily be perceived as a superficial structure.
The two leads of the movie are Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah). Dom has just broken up with his girlfriend of six years and is not taking it well. He embarks on his first major trip out of his house to attend his friend’s art gallery opening, where he encounters Yas. Her assertive personality immediately contrasts with Dom’s more shy and reserved nature. But sparks are clearly there, and as the gallery ends, they are still together, left to roam about London and get to know each other.
The cause of Dom’s breakup comes from the fact that his ex, Gia (Karene Peter) cheated on him with his best friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni). Dom is supposed to go get lunch with them to clear the air, but Yas crashes the meeting after hearing about the whole ordeal. She’s able to counteract Dom’s lack of assertion and expose Gia for the manipulative person she truly is. When the meeting ends, their relationship seems even stronger.
As the film develops, its impeccable style carries it to become an all-encompassing experience. Using wide angles and fisheye lenses, the cinematography is able to capture an off-kilter aesthetic that makes the movie have a personality of its own. This style is then complemented by lead actors — both relative newcomers — who are able to capture the viewers’s complete attention. While the structure of its story is nothing new, the lack of sensationalism that the film applies to it is certainly a breath of fresh air. The film, which takes place in a South London neighborhood far from the bustle of the city, situates viewers among a community of real people living their own lives. It’s through little touches — like an interaction between Dom and Yas where viewers see a neighbor peek their head out of their flat to listen for a little bit before going back to their own separate lives — that this is achieved.
Brief breaks into surrealism provide moments of new fun that make sure the movie is never a bore. When Dom and Yas tell stories of their past relationships, they see them appear as if they are audience members watching a play, all while accounting for the fog of mistruth that comes when one person tells their side of a two-person story. “Rye Lane” is a fun watch that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s also a unique piece of filmmaking with creative twists that make it a joy to experience.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.