After a long dry spell, the romantic comedy is finally in the midst of a revival. However, most attempts to make the genre relevant again seem to be making notable blunders, relying on big stars and a well-worn formula while lacking any real chemistry. This is exactly what audiences grew tired of and why we fell out of love with the genre in the first place. For the revival to truly become a renaissance, the romantic comedy still desperately needs an update.
Enter Rye Lane.
When Dom (David Jonsson) meets Yas (Vivian Oparah) at a South London art gallery, he is still reeling from his break-up. Rye Lane follows the pair through awkward encounters and unique misadventures. On this day, we learn about Dom and Yas’ heartbreaks, passions and ambitions. Their connection is not instant but blooms regardless. Yas’ candid attitude puts off the shy Dom. Neither is in a good place, struggling with dull 9-5 jobs and unflattering living situations. Their emotional displacement is clear in their first few interactions.
Rye Lane, directed by first-time filmmaker Raine Allen Miller, understands that we can no longer see ourselves reflected in the perfect worlds of previous rom-coms – most of us struggle to find one jumper that isn’t made of polyester, let alone sporting a whole wardrobe full of posh, high-quality knitwear. Dom and Yas are not the career-driven characters with stunning apartments the genre has grown accustomed to.
Twenty-somethings today are different, and many of us struggle intensely with socialising. Growing up with more online connections and spending formative years in a lockdown has left many of us feeling much older than we look. Much like Dom, we’ve grown reticent to the adventurous spontaneity youth is supposed to possess. So watching Dom and Yas adapt to each other’s presence is refreshing in its awkwardness.
That isn’t to say the film doesn’t understand the roots of the genre it comes from. Rye Lane is brimming with slightly cringy moments, a dash of cheese and a perfectly imperfect pairing that fits the genre. Between its fast-paced, quick London wit and copious amounts of walking scenes, Rye Lane is a beautiful mash-up of Human Traffic and When Harry Met Sally, with unique flavours.
A good rom-com makes you fall in love with the potential couple as their sparks fizz before your eyes, while a great one makes you fall in love with the world they inhabit. Like all early flirtations, sharing your local haunts with someone can reignite a love for the place where you live. Rye Lane is, above all else, a love letter to South London. Flitting between Brixton and Peckham’s food markets and parks and a bit of movie magic makes these two locations a hop away from each other. The film reignites our love affair with our city, one that’s easily lost in the daily grind.
Not only does Rye Lane speak to the current generation of twenty-somethings, but there is also something for everyone here. The awkward interactions at the family BBQ, the uncomfortable meetings with the ex and the slightly pretentious friends are all universal experiences, even if Rye Lane’s roots are culturally firmly in South London.
Rye Lane understands that a new era of rom-coms must offer authenticity while delivering on the universality of heartbreak and humiliation. A snippet of a Daniel Beddingfield track never goes amiss, either. If the rom-com revivalists learn from Rye Lane’s colourful and engaging approach, there may be hope for the genre’s return yet.
Rye Lane is in cinemas on 17 March.