‘Rye Lane’ Revitalizes Rom-Coms Beyond Its Legendary Cameo

·5 min read
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Romantic comedies have gotten into the habit of doing too much. Sure, the Nancy Meyers kitchens are dazzling—and Netflix should’ve paid her that lofty $150 million; she’s worth it—but we’ve gotten to a point where so many of the big budget rom-coms come across as forced. George Clooney and Julia Roberts have great chemistry, yes, but Ticket to Paradise was a monumental travesty on every other level. Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and Richard Gere starring together in one twisted rom-com romp sounds like a treat. Nope; instead, it’s too bland to work. Even Hulu’s new musical rom-com series set in New York, which sounded like a magical delight, was a massive disappointment.

At least Hulu has made up for this mistake in the form of Rye Lane, a dazzling new film that truly promises to revitalize the rom-com genre. Perhaps we don’t need Meg Ryan directing her own movie, J.Lo starring in a number of rom-coms with gonzo premises, or the flirtations of Roberts/Clooney. (Still: We’ll take all of the above, if you’re offering, regardless of if they’re good.) What it does need, however, is a new generation of charismatic stars, hilarious scripts, and unique premises to put a spin on the classic rom-com tropes. Rye Lane has all of this (and more!) bundled into a tight 82-minute runtime.

Sorry, Julia Roberts and George Clooney, ‘Ticket to Paradise’ Won’t Save the Romantic Comedy

Rye Lane received plenty of well-deserved good press out of the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in January. While it didn’t receive as much buzz as some other films at Sundance this year (like the frenzied Infinity Pool and the Ottessa Moshfegh adaptation Eileen), the humble movie certainly deserves the attention now. With its March 31 streaming release, Hulu is giving Rye Lane the chance to prove that small-budget, indie rom-coms with lesser-known stars are as good as splashier studio hits. In fact, they’re even better.

Headstrong Yas (Vivian Oparah) and sensitive Gus (David Jonsson) have their meet cute at a museum in South London—or, rather, the museum’s gender-neutral bathroom, where Gus is crying over his ex. Yas quickly cheers him up, and the two bond over having both gone through recent, gnarly breakups. While Yas has become strong enough to give some advice to teary Gus, the pair use their shared sadness to allow a new romance to blossom between them.

<div class="inline-image__title">Rye Lane</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Chris Harris</div>
Rye Lane
Chris Harris

The duo spend the day hopping around different parks, having deep conversations while awkwardly moping on playground equipment. Their relationship quickly progresses, to the point where Yas asks Gus to be her boyfriend—well, kind of. Gus proposes that Yas comes to lunch with him, his ex-girlfriend, and his best friend (who just so happened to be the man his ex cheated on Gus with), and she obliges. But at the table, she lies to Gus’ ex to make his life look better: She’s his new girlfriend. A shocked Gus plays along, pretending that the two are dating.

Ah, a fake romance that becomes real. A trope employed by everything from Bridgerton to 10 Things I Hate About You, it always works out delightfully well—as it does here, in Rye Lane. Though Yas and Gus’ fake relationship is not the entire focus of the movie, this awkward lunch scene (in which Yas questions why Gus fell for this boneheaded girl in the first place) is one of the many highlights of Rye Lane. Better yet: Their growing companionship allows Yas to open up more about her breakup. Instead of crying over old wounds, the pair hatch a better plan—to sneak into her ex’s apartment as payback (with a bit of karaoke on the way).

As Yas and Gus, Oparah and Jonsson’s performances left me hungry for more. Newcomer Oparah has a level of spunk that feels so refreshing in a female romantic lead. And Jonsson, who ironically stars as an ambitious young banker also named Gus in HBO’s Industry, has a grip on the “dopey, yearning sweetheart” archetype. He reminded me of Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is fitting, since Firth has a quick cameo as a sandwich shop worker in the film. Apparently, reaching the Oscar-winning actor is as easy as writing him an impassioned letter—which is all director Raine Allen-Miller did to secure the legendary Love Actually star in her flick.

<div class="inline-image__title">Rye Lane</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Searchlight Picture</div>
Rye Lane
Courtesy of Searchlight Picture

That small cameo—which forced me pause the film and alert it to every rom-com lover I know—is a sign of just how smart Rye Lane is. Not only is it self-aware by including one of the best-known, most-beloved rom-com leads as a gag, but it’s actually a real comedy too. The jokes aren’t just witty; they’re also laugh-out-loud hilarious. Yas and Gus are poised to fall in love with each other in a way that feels so obvious, yet still completely unpredictable. Allen-Miller, working with a clever script penned by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, has clearly done her research on what makes a rom-com extraordinary: most importantly, plenty of cheeky tête-à-tête between two leads with impeccable chemistry, but also a more human, emotional element layered beneath that quick-witted banter.

Rye Lane is good for a day where you need a smile—or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to gobble it all up right away and tell everyone in your vicinity to run to Hulu. There’s truly no better feeling than discovering a new favorite rom-com and giving it a spot in the rotation of comfort films to watch over and over again. Rye Lane is definitely worth adding to the pile.

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