It’s Notting Hill but in South London... and you’ll love it!
ORIGINALITY on screen comes in many forms. The wildly over-praised (and now over- Oscared) Everything Everywhere All At Once is nothing if not original, but it is also exhaustingly baffling. Rye Lane, made for a fraction of the budget yet with oodles more charm, shows originality in, dare I say, a more original way.
A romantic comedy, it takes an age- old premise (in which a man and woman on the rebound from painful break-ups fall for each other) and gives it such a modern sheen, such crackle and wit, that you feel as though you’re watching something excitingly novel and new.
The most auspicious of directorial debuts by Raine Allen-Miller, with a sparkling script by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, Rye Lane has been compared with the hit 1999 romcom Notting Hill, albeit mainly because it draws its title from the part of London in which it is set, in this case Peckham and Brixton, and certainly not because of the demographic of its cast.
Rye Lane is as black as Notting Hill was white and draws much of its humour and vibrancy from the strong Afro-Caribbean heritage in South-East London. That said, there is a gloriously counter- intuitive sequence in which a young black man’s choice of music is deemed not black enough.
Our romantic leads are Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah). He is an accountant who at the start of the film is sobbing his heart out in an art gallery toilet cubicle, his girlfriend having left him for one of his best mates.
It’s a unisex loo and he is overheard by Yas, an aspiring costume designer. She even takes a peek under the door and a little later, out in the gallery, recognises him from his shoes.
She, it turns out, has also just had her heart broken. That’s the narrative springboard from which the rest of the film bounces, almost literally so, because it has a zesty energy that I found irresistible.
DOM and Yas spend the rest of the day together, encountering their respective exes in delightfully funny scenes and through their non-stop banter realising gradually, inevitably, that they are made for one another.
The two engaging leads are splendidly served by a script that again and again made me laugh out loud, and when I wasn’t laughing I was smiling, especially when a major British movie star — practically synonymous with white, middle-class roles — pops up in a fleeting cameo.
That is a coup for Allen-Miller, but more significantly she does an impressive job in keeping her lovely, mischievous, inventive film to a snappy 82 minutes, while including (with cinematographer Olan Collardy) conspicuous nods to Wes Anderson in the vivid use of colour and stylised wide shots. I watched Rye Lane with my wife and we kept saying how much our kids, all in their 20s, would love it.
That’s the generation it is unapologetically aimed at . . . but what fun it was to crash the party.
■ SHAZAM! Fury Of The Gods isn’t nearly as much fun as everyone involved seems to think it is, despite a promisingly riotous opening scene in which Dame Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as vengeful Greek goddesses, the daughters of Atlas no less, wreak havoc in a modern-day museum.
I quite liked the original Shazam! (2019); it’s always a relief when superhero movies don’t take themselves too seriously and that one emphatically didn’t, but this sequel actually strains too hard for laughs, which repeatedly tests the patience as gags fall flat with thunderbolt force.
It’s a shame, really, because the special effects are terrific, especially when a band of mythical monsters, balefully unleashed
by Kalypso (Liu), terrorise the good people of Philadelphia.
Kalypso and her sisters Hespera (Mirren) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) believe that Shazam (Zachary Levi, rather overdoing the comedy gurning) and his gang of wisecracking vigilantes, otherwise known as plain Billy Batson and his foster siblings, have stolen their superpowers from the realm of the gods.
ALL hell duly breaks loose over Philly as the two factions go head to head, but pleasurable as it is to see the great Mirren decked out in ancient Greek garb, solemnly uttering lines such as ‘Do not underestimate the judgment of the wizard’, the novelty wears off long before the 130 minutes are up.
■ ANOTHER venerable acting dame, Judi Dench, pops up in Allelujah, Richard Eyre’s broadly welcome adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play about the NHS in which the geriatric ward of a Yorkshire hospital is run with what appears to be stern but benign efficiency by a veteran head nurse (played, excellently, by Jennifer Saunders).
It’s a fabulous cast, also comprising Sir Derek Jacobi and David Bradley, with Russell Tovey as a Whitehall bean counter forced to reappraise his slash-and-burn attitude towards the health service. And the screenplay by Call The Midwife writer Heidi Thomas pays due homage to Bennett’s wry oneliners, which pepper the dialogue.
Allelujah seemed to me perhaps 30 per cent too didactic, too much of a cinematic lecture on why, despite its flaws and foibles, we should all cherish the NHS.
But there is enough talent on show, in all departments, to make it a film worth seeing.