One of the best films of Sundance 2023 will be on Hulu in March, where I expect its many fans will watch it over and over again. It’s got the feel of an instant cult classic, a movie that will have devoted fans who love its characters enough to memorize their journey. “Rye Lane” is a burst of cinematic energy, a film that incorporates beats from “Before Sunrise,” classic British rom-coms, and even the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest into something that somehow feels familiar and new at the same time. The emotional beats are what we’ve seen before—it’s another story of two people who have a very unusual meet-cute and spend the rest of a wacky night together—but the characters, their dialogue, and the vibrant neighborhood in which this is set elevate it into something fresh and new. Let’s face it: the rom-com is in a dire state right now. This is one of the best of the decade so far.
It opens in a bathroom. Dom (David Jonsson) is trying to muffle his crying in a stall when Yas (Vivian Oparah) occupies the one next to him (it’s gender-neutral). Dom has noticed that his ex-girlfriend has been flaunting her new man on social media, a bloke who happens to be Dom’s best mate. It’s a lot to handle emotionally. Yas doesn’t intervene, but notices Dom’s shoes, and spots the fragile soul at the event they’re attending, a photography exhibit for a mutual friend. The two strike up a conversation and end up walking and talking through the London neighborhood of Peckham, which filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller turns into a character itself. With vibrant colors and eccentric characters everywhere, the background to this journey elevates the entire piece. It’s done with such love and creative passion that you wish you were walking alongside Dom and Yas just to take it all in.
Of course, the main reason you want to join them is to enjoy the company of two hysterical, sharp, believable characters who are so fully-realized that you root for their happiness from the very beginning. At first, Dom seems like the less stable of the two (that bathroom crying scene), and there’s an incredible scene in which Yas pretends to be his new girlfriend when Dom meets up with his ex and former BFF. But Allen-Miller smartly balances the dynamic, revealing that Yas is coming off recent heartbreak too, and may not be as confident as she pretends to be. It quickly becomes clear that Dom and Yas bring out the best in one another as she brings him out of his shell and he grounds her and supports her.