Rye Lane
David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in Rye Lane; Photo by Chris Harris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

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At one point during their Before Sunrise-esque stroll around London, Rye Lane’s protagonists stop for burritos at a hole-in-the-wall called Love Guac’tually. The restaurant’s name (and, in a charming cameo, the man who takes their orders) are a nod to one of the most beloved entries into the romantic comedy canon—and to a bygone era of the genre.

Love Actually came out in 2003, right in the middle of what some call the golden age of rom-coms. The 1990s and 2000s gave us Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers hits such as When Harry Met Sally… (1989, but close enough) and Something’s Gotta Give; stars like Julia Roberts and Adam Sandler leading movies a la Notting Hill and The Wedding Singer; and Academy Award nominees including Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Big Fat Greek Wedding

These days, the list of Academy Award nominees—and the offerings at your local AMC—looks a little different. Intellectual property has a much stronger presence than original love stories, which have mostly migrated to streaming services. Exceptions have come along, but many of the rom-coms that have made a cultural impact in the past five years (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Always Be My Maybe) have gone straight to streaming.

The buzzy Rye Lane, which becomes available on Hulu on Friday, March 31, breathes new life into the streaming-age rom-com. Newcomer Raine Allen-Miller directs the 80-minute flick, which follows accountant Dom (the dashing David Jonsson, who you might know from Industry) and eccentric aspiring costume designer Yas (played by a magnetic Vivian Oparah), who meet-cute in the bathroom at an art gallery, where Dom is loudly crying in a stall. 

When they meet again face-to-face, it doesn’t take much probing for Dom to reveal the source of his misery: The gorgeous Gia (Karene Peter) broke his heart. Yas, too, is fresh off a breakup with a pretentious artist type, and the two take off on a long, chatty walk around South London’s Peckham and Brixton districts, commiserating and goofing off in turn. Antics involving each of their exes (and, in one instance, The Low End Theory on vinyl) ensue, only serving to bring the pair closer. 

Rye Lane is a genre loyalist, with a plot as traditional as they come. Like any good rom-com, it sometimes suffers from its own archetypes. Yas, while mostly a lovable, complicated character, gets a bit of a not-like-other-girls treatment. When Dom tells her that his ex hated an anniversary dinner he planned at a dingy chicken shop, she responds: “I’m not even lying. That is literally my dream date.”

But the film has a refreshingly original spirit, too. One that starts with the way Rye Lane looks. In the hands of production designer Anna Rhodes and cinematographer Olan Collardy, South London is a fruit salad of vibrant hues. Saturated to a delightful extreme, Rye Lane seems to exist in the same urban playground Lily Allen portrayed in her 2008 music video for “LDN.” Quick, tight shots and fish-eye lenses make it all the more whimsical.

The film plays cleverly with memory and storytelling, using magic realism to bring its characters into each other’s worlds. As Dom recounts to Yas the moment he discovered that Gia was cheating on him, the pair is suddenly in the movie theater lobby where the news landed, watching a past version of Dom crumble to the floor. In these moments, the rom-com Rye Lane has the most in common with is 2001’s idiosyncratic Amélie.

The two movies have something else in common: Much like Amélie doubles as a love letter to Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood, Rye Lane is an ode to London’s Peckham and Brixton. Named after a major street in Peckham and shot on location, the movie is a tour of a diverse, bustling, and quickly gentrifying area. And with two Black leads who have Black friends, Black families, and Black exes, it subverts another convention of the so-called golden age: the films we celebrate the most are usually about White people.

Streaming-age rom-coms have earned a bad reputation for themselves. The blame for that falls almost completely on the shoulders of Netflix, which, though it has certainly produced some hits, also has a knack for churning out toothless, copy-and-paste movies like The Kissing Booth and The Perfect Date

But just because a rom-com lacks star power, a big budget, and an extended theatrical release, doesn’t mean it has to lack quality, nor heart. Rye Lane is a charming reminder of that.

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Rye Lane begins streaming on Hulu March 31.