There’s something electric about a movie featuring two strangers meeting and spending the day in each other’s company. Somehow, this happens to patently uncool 20-somethings; from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise to Harold Jackson III’s Last Night, the awkwardness of the situation is further exacerbated by how different the pair’s lives are. Maybe one of them is rebounding from a bad breakup; the other might be dissatisfied with their job or their position in life.
Director Raine Allen-Miller’s triumphant debut, Rye Lane, adheres to the formula fairly well, but there’s a vibrancy and verve that the film’s leads, location, and execution impart that make this film an instant hit. Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson grab us and each other for a full ride that keeps us on our toes, nimbly shifting focus from one character to the opposite and magically creating sparks that fan into a roaring fire by film’s end.
Olan Collardy’s wide-angle, anamorphic lensing gives Rye Lane a fantastic visual je ne sais quoi, capturing Oparah and Jonsson as they wend their respective characters Yas and Dom through a day and evening in London. It’s as if Collardy means to make this city a strange, imposing figure while Yas and Dom discuss their lives and their next steps, whether it’s going to a friend’s art exhibit or breaking into an ex’s house to rescue a forgotten item. Buildings and walls bend and stretch around our heroes as they recover from breakups that have left them shattered.
Oparah gives Yas the kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants persona which serves well to cover up her pain in Dom’s eyes, yet the camera lingers just long enough to make us understand that there’s something else to Yas’ troubles. For all of Yas’ personal twists and turns, Oparah is a delight throughout, effervescent, hilarious, and instantly attractive to both Dom and the audience. There’s a kind of grounded-yet-floundering tightrope walk that Oparah executes with each turn of the scene, and she pulls it off with energetic skill.
Likewise, Jonsson feels right at home as the crumbling Dom, whose girlfriend shacked up with his best friend and is still crying about it, even at a public event where his shoes humorously give his identity away to Yas. Jonsson bears the weight of Dom’s circumstance well and sheds it little by little as the similarly-wayward Yas bounces into his life and joins him on this whirlwind of a day. Dom’s a bit of a milquetoast, gingerly feeling his way through life until Yas shows him how fortune favors the bold. These two are endlessly watchable, each making the other’s heart lighter as they tell their stories, show each other new food choices, and have chance encounters with friends and exes alike.
Raine Allen-Miller’s tight realization of Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s script sticks every punch it launches, even when the film turns to cliché at some points. She’s wise enough to visually and thematically acknowledge the time-honored chestnuts the script has (a meeting with an ex gets juiced by an unexpected interloper, the big confrontation that threatens to undo everything, etc.), but she’s also smart enough to steer Yas and Dom away from fantasy and into the real world, where the big swell of music doesn’t always happen and the fireworks don’t go off. Rye Lane asks us to run along with Yas and Dom as they find themselves and each other, and Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson create magic out of such simplicity to make us believe in them and how a good day can turn everything around.
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