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'Rye Lane' is a real joy to watch

David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in Rye Lane. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in Rye Lane. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The films of the American independent movement of the 1980s and ‘90s often have an excitement that’s particular to that era—there’s a looseness in many of them that allows for space to discover and play. A lot of those films were made up largely of people talking—often young people, trying to figure out their lives, talking about what was interesting to them, or could make them seem smarter, or might romance another person. We don’t see much of this sort of thing these days, for plenty of reasons, but partly because the availability of digital cameras and production has made it so that you can do a whole lot more with the same amount of money. The restrictions of having to pay for film opened up a specific creativity that just isn’t as necessary anymore.

The British movie Rye Lane has the same energy of some of those films, an enchanting enthusiasm for walking and talking, for getting a little crazy, and for the flutters of meeting someone new. Dom broke up with his girlfriend a few months ago, and he’s still pulling up photos of her on his phone and crying about them. He’s sitting in a public toilet doing exactly this when he’s overheard by Yas, who soon notices Dom out in the gallery of an art show, feels bad for him, and starts chatting him up. Yas is, let’s say, quite a bit to take, but given where Dom is in his life, someone so assertive is probably also the only kind of person who’s going to get through to him-- he can’t tell her to leave, because she won’t care. The two walk through South London talking, first about Dom’s relationship, later about other things, and of course there are some hijinks along the way. There’s plenty that reminds us of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise here, but more in the broad strokes than in tone—Yas is too high energy for this to resemble that film too much, and the two get into rather more colorful situations. There’s a pulse running through this film, a real connection to a place and the brightness of youth that’s infectious and a little inspiring.

A movie with this kind of energy can also go a little too hard at times, and it does, but it’s worth the missteps. There’s a real joy in watching a movie just do its own thing, and when it connects, it’s a little bit thrilling. We don’t exactly end up anywhere surprising when it’s all said and done, but what we get along the way is an lovely reminder of a kind of movie that’s all too rare these days.

Rye Lane is on Hulu March 31st.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.