One of the best films of Sundance 2023 will be on Hulu in March, where I expect its many fans will watch it again and again. It has the feel of an instant cult classic, a film that will have devoted fans who love its characters enough to remember 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 for something that somehow feels familiar and new at the same time. The emotional beats are what we’ve seen before – it’s another story about two people who have a very unusual meet-cute and spend the rest of a crazy night together – but the characters, their dialogue and the lively neighborhood where this set elevates it to something fresh and new. Let’s face it: the rom-com is in one terrible state right now. This is one of the best of the decade so far.
It opens into a bathroom. Dom (David Jonsson) tries to stifle his tears in a booth 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 guy who happens to be Dom’s best mate. It’s a lot to deal with emotionally. Yas doesn’t intervene, but notices Dom’s shoes and spots the fragile soul at the event they attend, a photo exhibition 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 himself turns into a character. With vibrant colors and eccentric characters everywhere, the background of this journey elevates the entire work. It’s done with so much love and creative passion that you’ll wish you went with 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 right from the start. At first, Dom seems like the less stable of the two (the one crying in the bathroom), and there’s an incredible scene where Yas pretends to be his new girlfriend when Dom meets his ex and former BFF. But Allen-Miller cleverly balances the dynamic, revealing that Yas is also coming off a recent heartbreak and may not be as confident as she pretends to be. It quickly becomes clear that Dom and Yas bring out the best in each other as she brings him out of his shell and he grounds her and supports her.