These two things are true: I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed the romantic comedy Rye Lane (2023), but the somewhat frenetic editing, especially at the beginning, put me off to such a degree that I almost stopped watching. Just like one person’s tired clichés can be another’s comforting throughlines, one person’s edifying artistic interjections can be another’s annoying tics. Look, my brain just doesn’t love shifting ambient music, short stops, sudden changes in perspective, and undulating volume. For a very niche comparison, it felt a lot like an episode of RadioLab from maybe 2010? However, that aside, this story of two people shedding the accumulated weight of their past relationships and hangups as they aimlessly make their way through a day getting to know each other in South London is a bright take on a tried and true formula, which left a smile on my face and warmth in my charred heart.

Our tale begins, as so many good stories do, in a public restroom, where Dom (David Jonsson) is having a not-so-private cry. Well, it is actually mostly private until Yas (Vivian Oparah) pops into the bathroom to give herself a pep talk of sorts (“You’re a knob. You’re a knob.”), before sitting down to pee in the stall next to him. He politely points out she’s in the men’s room, but then she politely points out that actually it’s unisex, so they’re left with peeing and stifled tears. Dom tries to subdue his tears until she leaves, but she totally knows what’s happening and even takes a peak under the door where she clocks his unique combo of pink chucks and blue pants. Outside the bathroom, they’re both attending an exhibit of Nath’s (Simon Manyonda) photographs of mouths.

Dom in a narrow bathroom stall with blue headphones around his neck and mustard colored shirt, hugging himself as he cries. The light is making his face glow.
This is a no good day for Dom, but it is a great shot for us and he’s managing to look pretty amazing while crying.
Dom's hand holding his phone on which there is a video of Gia and Eric pursing their lips and posing.
This is one of the videos that is making him sob in the public bathroom stall, which you can totally understand, but is also kind of hilarious because these people are ridiculous.
Yas standing in the bathroom looking to one side.
Yas when she enters the bathroom is less than confident and centered, which is important given the persona she later projects.
Dom and Yas in adjoining bathroom stalls. She is holding a roll of toilet paper and looking toward the wall of his stall. He is covering his mouth and looking toward the wall of her stall.
It doesn’t look like the most auspicious start, though, again, it’s very pretty for being inside a public restroom, but great things are going to come from this. Plus, look at these people. You know you want to know more about them all read.

Dom is friends with Nath and Yas is friends with his girlfriend Cass (Poppy Allen-Quarmby), and really no one, it seems, is friends with the photographs, which are extreme close ups of people’s lips and teeth and sometimes tongues. Nath says, “We know more about planet Jupiter than we do about our own mouths. That’s facts. Real talk. The mouth is the Stonehenge of the face.” Dom and Yas end up contemplating one of these mysteries of the art together—she knowing they were just side-by-side in the bathroom and he having no clue. Dom tries to sound like he knows what the fuck he’s talking about by saying they have a real “like, cerebral feel…or maybe lyrical is a better way to—or expressive.” Yas looks at him flatly and then says, “Wow. You know all the adjectives,” her eyes widening just slightly with a flash of playfulness and mischief at the end. Dom looks slightly abashed and then smiles. It is entirely endearing and if you do not fall head over heels for both their characters then and there, well, this may not be the movie for you. They begin to talk, to banter, and it seems that Yas has somewhat of the upper hand. You know, if we were indeed keeping score of these things. She seems more in control, perhaps, has a cooler countenance, asks more rapid-fire questions, and is more insistent that she knows how people work. But, on the other hand, Dom seems incredibly gentle, kind, and eager to please in certain ways. He gets talked into buying a photograph he absolutely doesn’t want by Nath, but also shrugs it off as a future investment. He’s clearly settled into the person he will be while Yas, perhaps, has some shifting left to do. Both are valid. Neither is better. 

Dom looking down and smiling.
Um, excuse me? Did I forget to mention that you will likely be incredibly smitten with both these humans and their many micro-facial expressions. They are all but impossible to capture with screen shots, so you’ll have to trust me when I say they are glorious to behold. Or you could, you know, watch the movie.
Yas looking intently at Dom. Behind her are Nath's very close up photos of mouths were you can see teeth and lips and some tongues.
Here I just missed Yas’s eyes widening at Dom, but still, there’s so much going on in her face. Also, please take a moment to imagine yourself in a room with all those mouths.

Dom and Yas leave the exhibit together and walk in the same direction, talking as they go. They walk through an indoor market where most of the stalls are closed, their brightly painted metal shutter doors pulled down, where Yas learns that Dom lives at home again and is an accountant, a job he dreamed of having since he was a kid. Dom learns that Yas once dreamed of being Prince in “Purple Rain.” Here it snaps to a younger Yas dressed as Prince, and slightly distorted music plays as Present Yas still speaks softly over the scene. Then they walk through a park, stopping to bounce on the kiddie toys, which makes Dom look slightly queasy, while Yas explains her current thwarted dreams of becoming a costume designer. They are awkward with each other, but clearly interested in continuing in the same direction together.

Dom finally admits he’s heading to a restaurant to meet his ex-girlfriend of six years, Gia (Karene Peter), who cheated on him with Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni), his best friend since childhood. They want to meet him together at the restaurant that used to be Dom and Gia’s special place to clear the air. (Later Gia will say she thinks  “there’s gotta be a shelf life on guilt.”)  I mean, ouch. The breakup story is told in a flashback that Dom and Yas are inserted into. So they’re watching Dom experience the breakup in realtime and discussing it in the present while music with a strong beat starts and stops playing and everything is bathed in an intensely blue light. Like I said, this may be very much your thing. I’m sure it’s got a lot of artistic film qualities that people could say many things about, but I’m just here talking on the level of my human brain’s process, and it’s not entirely down with this. But I fully appreciate the story it’s telling. Yas offers to go with him to the restaurant, but he balks, saying this is a “proper life thing” and he can’t just bring a random stranger along.  And you get the feeling that maybe Yas, for all her posturing at being totally cool and on top of things, just really doesn’t want to be alone. And I should pause to say that while some of the editing techniques may make my stomach quite literally queasy, the color palette and lighting of the movie are so phenomenal that they almost should be credited as their own supporting characters.

Dom and Yas standing in the hallway outside a movie theater watching Dom from the recent past as he sits on the floor holding a thing of popcorn, a soda, and his phone while looking distraught.
Dom and Yas watching Dom go through his breakup with Gia.
Eric and Gia sitting in the restaurant, both with goofy expressions on their faces.
I did manage to catch Eric and Gia with some pretty epic expressions on their faces, though.

Of course, this isn’t the end of Dom and Yas. It can’t be! These people have an awkward but palpable chemistry, and, every time it builds towards something that seems like a spark, one of them says something slightly off-putting or rude or dampening, and you’re forced to wait for everything to build again. The chemistry isn’t highly sexually charged per se; you don’t get the feeling that these two are just dying to get into each other’s pants. It’s a gentler, more tentative, but still eager kind of chemistry that is tender, and emotional, and will most certainly lead into their pants as well, just not before our eyes. 

Yas shows up to save Dom from the lunch he didn’t want saving from, but, now that she’s there perhaps he’s glad to have her. The two of them weave a story of half truths and lies, some of which will become truths before the day is done, and flip the script on Gia and Eric before turning themselves back out into the streets where they begin to wander again. They discuss Yas’s breakup from her sculptor boyfriend; she dated him for less time and knew it was over when he did not wave back to people on boats and she learned he didn’t appreciate Tribe Called Quest. Obviously, it was more complicated than that, but it also wasn’t. They get onto the topic of grand gestures and how they’re received and if it’s possible to just let things happen, but at the same time, of course, Yas is most definitely not just letting things happen in her life. 

Dom and Yas standing with their mouths still full of food, heads thrown back in laughter.
Casts these actors in everything.
Dom and Yas sitting on a green slope with the light behind behind them, looking at each other intently.
Look at them! Protect this fledgling romance at all costs.

In this meandering conversation and seemingly purposeless walk, they are, of course, touching upon all the most important things in life. Their conversations are timid at first, but they also appear to be vulnerable in the way that strangers who don’t necessarily expect to meet again but who feel an instant connection often are. A lot of things will hinge on a Tribe Called Quest album. They will eat burritos from a stand called Love Guac’tually run by the most perfect man, end up at a BBQ where they don’t belong, be accused of trawling through underwear drawers, drive a moped through the city, sing karaoke (you could watch the movie for this very short scene alone), break and enter, and miss some important phone calls. However, would this be a real rom-com if one person weren’t more Emotionally Unavailable ™ , using subterfuge to deflect painful truths, and letting their acidic tongue speak louder than the beat-beat of their heart? It most certainly would not. In this case all those things are done with a deft touch and great a script, so it doesn’t feel like you’re being yanked around anymore than the actual characters, to whom I felt surprisingly attached after a very tight hour and twenty-two minutes. And although they keep calling the moment at the end a grand gesture, it doesn’t really feel like one in the breathless run-through-the-airport kind of way. (Not that I am in any way, shape, or form trying to poo-poo that kind of scene, which is vital and necessary in its time and place.) This just feels like two people who are right for each right now finding a way together. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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