Imagine, if you will, a Richard Curtis style romcom, where two young people meet, have a whirlwind romance and celebrate whichever part of London they happen to live in. But with a big difference, because in this film all the leading characters are Black, while a few well-known white actors are relegated to tiny cameo roles. What’s more, the area where the story is set is depicted in such exquisite detail it almost becomes a character itself. That is essentially what Rye Lane is: a love letter to Peckham, previously immortalised onscreen in er… Only Fools and Horses.
The film opens in a unisex public toilet stall at an art gallery, where Dom (David Jonsson) sits weeping loudly. He’s bewailing the breakup of his six year relationship with Gia (Karene Peter), who – it turns out – has been cheating with Dom’s best friend, the handsome but dim-witted Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni). The cause of the breakup? Dom has spotted Eric’s distinctive private parts in the background of a Messenger call to Gia. Awkward.
Into the toilet wanders Yas (Vivian Oparah), a vivacious young woman with an unconventional worldview. She believes that people can be divided into two basic categories: those who wave at boats and those who don’t. Yas overhears Dom’s distress and notices his footwear, so when she encounters him later, she feels impelled to become involved in his situation. At first the two of them seem to have absolutely nothing in common, but when Yas comes to Dom’s rescue during an awkward conciliatory meeting with his ex, their budding friendship is given a considerable power charge. Throwing all caution to the wind, he and Yas head off for a wild, adventurous day out…
If this all sounds depressingly familiar, don’t be fooled. Debut director Raine Allen-Miller has crafted a delightful odyssey across South London, backed up with vivid cinematography and a witty (sometimes downright hilarious) script by Nathan Bryan and Tom Melia. But the film’s real trump card is its vibrant depictions of everyday life in Peckham, throwing a whole set of dazzling locations and eccentric local inhabitants into the mix. What we get is a riot of open-air markets, street performers, public parks and an adrenalin-charged karaoke session. The film never allows one set-up to overstay its welcome, but keeps moving restlessly onwards to its heartwarming conclusion.
Okay, at the end of the day, Rye Lane may just be a slice of entertaining fluff but it is realised with such vigour and ingenuity that, long before we hit the end credits, I’m totally sold (and talking of end credits, stay in your seat for a brief but very funny outtake!). Anybody looking for a recharge should check this out without further delay. It’s utterly charming and the best fun I’ve had in the cinema for quite some time.