Searchlight Pictures, 2023
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“What makes you think I've got a mess?”
“Everyone has a mess.”
Break-up movies can take many different approaches. Some, like Legally Blonde, vilify the significant other and center the story around the main character’s payback. Others shed light on the relationship and force the protagonist to bear some responsibility, such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. A lot of films pair the melancholy protagonist with a fun and upbeat new person, like Along Came Polly. While having a short running time, the new indie rom-com Rye Lane manages to combine all these elements while avoiding the many clichés of its genre.
Rye Lane follows Dom (David Jonsson, Industry) and Yas (Vivian Oparah, Then You Run), two twenty-somethings fresh off of break-ups who meet at a mutual friend’s art exhibit. After leaving, they improvise the rest of the day together in South London and open up about how they are coping. Yas does her best to boost Dom’s self-esteem and convince him that he is better off without his old flame, who cheated on him with his best friend. Along the way, the two meet each other’s exes, hang out with family members, and of course, get into a couple of sticky situations.
First-time director Raine Allen-Miller uses visual gags and surrealist scenes to appeal to the audience. Rather than simply having Dom and Yas converse or show narrated flashbacks, Allen-Miller inserts the co-leads into the flashbacks as if they are reliving the moments themselves. The most entertaining of these scenes is when Yas recalls her ex’s disdain for hip hop music while she plays her A Tribe Called Quest album. This scene could have simply been a throwaway line amidst her and Dom’s conversation, but instead the audience sees Yas and her ex onstage in a black box theater as if they are starring in a play. All of the seats in the audience are filled by clones of Dom watching while Yas narrates. All of the Dom doppelgangers react in unison: laughing, slapping their knees, gritting their teeth in anger at the ex’s off-putting comments. In illustrating the flashback this way, Allen-Miller maximizes the comedic potential of the story beat.
This scene, and other such flashbacks, provides the audience with added context for the breakdown of Yas’s and Dom’s relationship. It is one thing to hear differences of opinion between couples and feel them to be too petty to lead to a breakup. But depicting the disagreement instead gives the audience a better sense of the chemistry (or lack thereof) between the two. Yas’s ex maintained a hyper-serious nature that, combined with his dismissive tone, did not mix well with the free-spirited, goofy personality of Yas. Many rom-coms involving a recent breakup attempt to place the exes in a scene together to show the audience why they did not work, and Rye Lane accomplishes this with its absurdist elements. While the stylized humor may be too quirky for some, it certainly holds the audience’s attention.
Rye Lane also flips gender norms on their heads right from the jump. In the opening scene, Yas enters a unisex bathroom and overhears Dom crying in one of the stalls. In countless rom-coms from past generations, the female character is the crying, inconsolable co-lead while the male attempts to comfort her. Without being preachy or overbearing, the film continues to subvert expectations of masculinity and femininity. Dom rocks a pair of pink sneakers, which is how Yas recognizes him when he later exits the bathroom. As the film progresses, Yas is consistently the authority on relationships and plans of action, also going against rom-com gender norms. She offers Dom life advice since she seems to be handling her breakup better emotionally. Despite being joyous and impulsive, Yas is still down-to-earth and flawed enough to not assume the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype.
On the flipside, Yas never belittles Dom’s personality as less than or “beta male.” She seeks to instill confidence in him without playing to any toxic traits associated with old-fashioned masculinity, simply urging him to stand up for himself. Similarly, Dom is never put off or intimidated by Yas’s confidence. He instead voices his admiration for who she is and aspires to be more like her. Though the respect could be attributed to them withholding judgment due to having just met each other, it can also be seen as an example of allowing people to grow into their own without denigrating them.
Though the rom-com genre is chock full of recent breakup stories, Rye Lane definitely forges its own story path. It does, however, come across as a perfect mix of the 2000 John Cusack flick High Fidelity and the late 2000’s Michael Cera comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Between the reliving of breakups, stylistic flashbacks and emphasis on musical tastes, all three films offer what newly single people need: acceptance, good times, and a glimmer of hope moving forward.