Rye Lane was a masterclass in how to make a rom-com in 2023

Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson in Rye Lane
(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

London and rom-coms go together like a Joni Mitchell CD and crying at Christmas, but neither has been committed to the big screen quite like Rye Lane. Released this past spring, Raine Allen-Miller's debut feature follows two strangers thrown together for a madcap journey around the city's streets in a bid to get back at their respective exes.

The movie tells a love story between Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), two recently single 20-somethings who cross paths at a mutual friend's photography exhibition after Yas hears Dom crying in the unisex toilets. But it's not just that – it’s also a love letter to its setting. It's always fun to see the place you live on screen, but the London committed to celluloid for romantic comedies is usually reserved for tourist traps like Westminster or wealthy residential areas like Notting Hill.  

Instead, in Rye Lane, we walk, run, and moped through the streets of Peckham and Brixton, making stops at local landmarks like Peckhamplex Cinema, Brockwell Park, Windrush Square, and Rye Lane Market. This isn't a polished version of London, but it's not a gritty, bleak version, either – it's the city in all its messy, eclectic glory. 

This is the real city, where people live, work, and fall in love. There are no envy-inducing Bridget Jones-esque apartments in Rye Lane – Dom had to move back into his parents' house post-breakup, and Yas lives in a houseshare with a former living room as a bedroom. The script, penned by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, was originally set in the North London borough of Camden, but Allen-Miller, who moved to Brixton at the age of 12, knew the setting had to change with herself at the helm. 

David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in Rye Lane

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

What really holds the movie together, though, is Jonsson and Oparah. The pair, both in their first big-screen leading roles, ooze charm and charisma, bouncing off each other with sizzling chemistry. These are two people who you can believe could fall in love. Clocking in at a tight 82 minutes, Rye Lane doesn't overstay a second of its runtime. Fizzy, kinetic, and bursting with energy, the camera barrels along with Dom and Yas, and all the promise of the big city flies along with them in the tailwind. Watching them feels like we've hopped onto Yas' borrowed moped for a joyride, but the central romance never feels rushed. Every bit of eye contact and cautious flirtation feels earned, and their first kiss feels positively giddy. 

And it's not all about the 'rom'. The script is genuinely funny, and the leads deliver on the humor, too. Oparah deftly sells Yas to the audience, a character who might have been annoying with a less smart script or a less skilled actor, while Jonsson makes sure the shyer, more cautious Dom still holds his own. They both feel like real people, afraid to look too closely at what they want in case it melts away. 

A rom-com isn't complete without a third-act conflict that threatens the central pairing, but this trope only works if we can see both points of view. Too petty on one side and we're frustrated, too mean-spirited on the part of the other and the eventual resolution won't sit right. Rye Lane handles this expertly, with a low-stakes betrayal that makes sense from both sides. Dom and Yas' inevitable reconciliation is refreshingly normal, too. There's a grand gesture, sure, but it's a full-circle moment that feels grounded in both the characters and the world they live in. 

Rom-coms are built for escapism and Rye Lane achieves just that, all the while feeling grounded in realism and down-to-earth charm. In short, it's everything you want from a romantic comedy. All the hallmarks of the genre are here, but there's an underlying sense of newness and freshness. With two charismatic leads at its helm and supported by a third co-star in south London, Rye Lane puts rom-coms back on the map.

Rye Lane is now streaming on Disney Plus and Hulu. For more of the top films of the year, check out our list of the best movies of 2023, as voted for by the Total Film team. 

Entertainment Writer

I’m an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering everything film and TV-related across the Total Film and SFX sections. I help bring you all the latest news and also the occasional feature too. I’ve previously written for publications like HuffPost and i-D after getting my NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism.