Thursday 23 March 2023

The long and winding road: "Rye Lane"

Raine Allen-Miller's
Rye Lane represents the intersection of several parallel projects and initiatives. Feeding into it from one direction: Film London's twenty-year battle to make the capital city look some distance more alluring and saleable than it did in those dreary late Nineties gangster movies. From another: the ongoing effort to give new and historically underrepresented faces and voices a leg up onto the big screen. In and of itself, the film hardly constitutes a radical break from the past. Writers Nathan Bryon (who cut his teeth on Sky Comedy's reliably amusing Bloods) and Tom Melia (a graduate of Hollyoaks) have turned in a script that hews to much the same walking-and-talking formula as sustained Richard Linklater's Before films, American indies like In Search of a Midnight Kiss and Gimme the Loot, our own Last Chance Harvey and Been So Long, and many stragglers besides. Romcom purists can be reassured our ambulant lovers are forced apart by contrivance at the start of the third act, before being reunited for a happy ending. And there's even been a site-specific dress rehearsal of sorts in Destiny Ekaragha's goofily enjoyable 2014 comedy Gone Too Far!, another Peckham-set endeavour that the majority of my colleagues seemed to have forgotten about when filing their largely glowing reviews last weekend. (There's a lot of films to keep track of nowadays.) What Allen-Miller succeeds in doing is applying a fresh lick of paint to much of the above. You see it almost literally early on, in the warm colours of the art gallery where the movie engineers its very British meet-cute: lovelorn Dom (David Jonsson), who's just discovered his gal has taken up with his best pal, being coaxed out of a gender-neutral toilet cubicle by Yas (Vivian Oparah), passing Good Samaritan who takes pity on this sorry sadsack, partly because she's experienced heartbreak of her own all too recently. Thereafter, this pair find themselves on the same route home - the extended thoroughfare of the title - so they fall even further into sympathetic synch: two complementing sets of Converse trainers, packed off on an 82-minute meander round some brightly coloured houses.

If the film that develops out of this set-up inevitably invites description as ambling, it has a nice sense of time and place, and you spy from the word go that Allen-Miller knows how to fill a frame. Prats on segues, nosy neighbours, young girls making Tik-Toks, city boys belting out grime tracks, a Levi Roots cameo: the director uses the extras afforded to her to bulk out a bustling expression of South London life, such that we come to think of Yas and Dom's growing affinity as but one story among many. This London contains multitudes; you may even wonder, as I did, how much control Allen-Miller exerted over the pigeons in the park these kids pass through. Her early exteriors - as Yas and Dom shuffle awkwardly out of the gallery - are sunny in an English way: i.e. tentatively sunny, a few rays of light relief from the prevailing greyness, to be seized upon, bathed in and taken advantage of before the clouds blow over again. We hasten past the magic hour to closing time - semi-shuttered shops, a feeling everybody's off the clock - and onwards into an evening out of which all parties vow (in Dom's case, reluctantly) to make a night. The direction, then, is as assured as it comes. The script, I think, is antsier, though this could just be a generational quibble. It's funny: it has several choice music-based jokes, including an aside that makes a belated comic case for the validity of the Artful Dodger's dreadful "Bo Selecta" track. But it's a touch overstuffed with zappy cutaways and wacky sidequests, when really you just want to settle in and fall in stride with two performers busy proving themselves the best sort of company. Jonsson (a regular on the BBC/HBO drama Industry) has the slightly tougher gig, loosening Dom up enough so that he slides out of his shell; he has a very sweet speech towards the end, bashfully hinting at everything Yas has taught him in a mere matter of hours. Oparah (until now best known for her stage work) is just a fizzing ball of energy from the start: I'm only partly exaggerating when I say there is more life concentrated in and around this actress's mouth and chin than there has been in the entire British cinema for the past decade-and-a-half. Rye Lane never lacks for personality, and its closing moments are going to get a lot of people laid; that's probably not the case with What's Love Got To Do With It?, and in the resolutely unsexy context of post-Brexit Britain might even represent a minor miracle.

Rye Lane is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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