The genre of the romantic comedy feels like it’s hanging on by a thread via streaming services; sure, we have some high-profile theatrical releases each year like Ticket to Paradise or The Lost City, but those both achieve their success and wide-release due to their A-list cast. On the flip side to this, the streaming wars have undeniably paved way for some really interesting and subversive romantic comedies that often feel wholly unique because it’s not clear if they’d have ever been greenlit in an era when theatrical was the only way to go. This is where Rye Lane feels like a sweet-spot between these two ideals; a film that I think would absolutely crush with an audience if it is ever given the opportunity to do so, but its experimental style is so unlike anything else you typically see in modern romantic comedies that I can’t help but appreciate the freedom that the filmmakers here clearly had; it’s genuinely one of the most unique and inventive films the genre has turned out in many years.
This isn’t to say that Rye Lane is subversive through and through – in fact, one of the most surprising elements here is how a lot of the plot points and romantic beats are a tad bit familiar. This is the type of film that proves that presentation is really half the battle when you’re going into any kind of established genre with baggage of cliches, as director Raine Allen Miller proves her craft to blend seamlessly within the confines of a traditional romantic comedy structure. The film constantly uses such interesting visual techniques and fully tilts into colorful, dream-like sequences. This is largely in credit to cinematographer Olan Collardy who turns in some genuinely incredible work here, and makes it abundantly clear from the very first moment the film begins with an insane shot that I won’t dare spoil.
Even aside from the general visual presentation, the way Raine Allen Miller uses cutaway gags, flashbacks, and editing to her advantage both in terms of comedy and romance is so fundamentally perfect to what she’s trying to accomplish here; and it’s even more impressive when the film is over and you realize she made you feel so many feelings at a whopping 82 minutes. Another big reason this film works as efficiently and satisfyingly as it does is due to the leads of the film. Every romantic comedy is only as good as the chemistry between the love interests, and David Jonsson and Vivian Oprah deliver some of the most dynamite, immediately-infectious chemistry I’ve seen on-screen in quite sometime as Dom and Yas. The film largely feels almost like one of Richard Linklater’s Before films within its structure, and how much of it is just simply these characters walking around and talking to each other about their perspectives on love and relationships – but it also feels like it entirely embraces the 90s-2010s culture of romantic comedies. It isn’t afraid to be as equally experimental as it is satisfyingly warm and familiar to what we know and expect from the genre.
It bears repeating, though – while Rye Lane certainly has a lot of similarities to other romantic comedies both stylistically and structurally, director Raine Allen Miller does a hell of a job at making it feel wholly unique to her own vision and voice. This is the type of film that feels like a genuine gift amongst the crop of Sundance debuts this year – something entirely unique, exciting, and incredibly entertaining. Sure, there are moments in Rye Lane where I wondered why it doesn’t simply go all the way with being subversive when the style and presentation is so unique; but I also wouldn’t change a single thing about the film. And the more I’ve sat with it throughout the day, the more satisfied I am with having a somewhat thematically familiar romantic-comedy that feels so impressively unlike anything I’ve seen before visually. This one is an absolute gem.