For many, the first time they will come across the names Raine Allen-Miller, David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah will be in Rye Lane’s credits, but it won’t be the last.
Writer-director Raine Allen-Miller’s feature-length film debut delivers an eye-popping one-night odyssey through South London, as two twenty-somethings, reeling from bad break-ups, find solace in one another through so-bad-its-good karaoke renditions, questionable art exhibitions and neglected shopping arcades.
Allen-Miller saturates the South London areas of Peckinpah and Brixton with colour and enthusiasm unparalleled by her contemporaries, showing a deep affection for the places she grew up in. Markets, galleries and cinemas become Disneyland-like attractions painted in a bright, all-encompassing palette. Otherwise-ordinary settings such as shopping arcades and unkempt backyards aren’t depicted in their murky forms, but instead with bursts of colour usually reserved in film for beaches or amusement parks. By reframing the neighbourhoods’ would-be-mundane locations as places of wonder, Allen-Miller captures Peckinpah and Brixton through a heart-shaped lens that encourages audiences to embrace the ‘ordinary’ beauty of their own hometowns.
Packed with razor-sharp dialogue and savvy pop culture references, Allen-Miller’s script is the product of a writer in-tune with her audience and setting. In turn, her leads David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah – and their respective avatars Dom and Yas – share a natural chemistry and revel in Allen-Miller’s material.
Frequent flashbacks keep Rye Lane moving at a brisk pace. Depicted through the characters’ points-of-view, these flashbacks allow us to challenge their version of events, leading to a nuanced and often hilarious contemplation of differing perspectives – Dom’s and Yas’ conflicting attitudes towards their respective break-ups provide arguments for the merits of moving on gracefully or by burning down the house.
Throughout the course of their night, the two encounter a myriad of cartoonish Coen-esque characters; among them, both of their exes, their exes’ new partners, family and friends. The young leads and Allen-Miller expertly cede the spotlight to such cameos, but never deviate too far from the crux of Rye Lane’s story.
Arguably, one of Rye Lane’s biggest strengths is its treatment of its “antagonists”. We are positioned on opposing sides to Dom’s and Yas’ exes and their (boorish) new partners yet they are never depicted as one-dimensional enemies. Yes, we laugh at the idiocy of Dom’s best mate (now his ex’s new partner), but never with malice. Similarly, we might laugh at the antics of Yas’ ex’s family during an ill-fated stopover at their house, but the humour derived from this encounter closely resembles the way that we might gently tease or point out the quirks of our own relatives, without nastiness. By introducing us to these characters along the way through good-natured encounters, Rye Lane creates a sense of familiarity; the neighbourhoods of Peckinpah and Brixton are infused with boundless life and inhabited by heightened versions of people you likely know.
With her sharp and hugely entertaining debut feature, Raine Allen-Miller further refines the auteur we saw glimpses of in her early short films, and her lovingly crafted rom-com is sure to be a favourite for serial re-watchers. It will be a delight to see where she, and her young stars, take the boundless spirit of Rye Lane to next.
– Spencer Gilder-Smith, ACMI
Rye Lane is now streaming on Disney+.