Rye Lane, and the cinema problem

Rye Lane
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Disney has announced the streaming debut date for Rye Lane, when the film had only been in UK cinemas for two weeks. Helpful, or undercutting the film’s theatrical release?

It’s not going to be around an awful lot longer on the big screen, but there’s a thoroughly delightful film currently playing in UK cinemas. It’s a romantic comedy, that arrives at a point in time where articles continue to arrive suggesting the genre has washed its hands of cinemas, making its peace instead with streaming services. Refreshingly too, the film is very British, and very brilliant.


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It’s Rye Lane, a movie directed by Raine Allen-Miller, and written by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia. For Allen-Miller, remarkably, it’s her feature directorial debut, a production following Vivian Oparah’s Yas and David Jonsson’s Dom as they meet in, well, a toilet. The pair have both recently broken up with their respective other halves, and neither is in the best of places. Matters move on from there.

There are lots of reviews out there for the film, and pretty much all of them paint an entirely correct picture of a funny and warm feature, that actively deserves to be seen. Given that so many romantic comedies are finding an instant home on streaming services too, full credit to Searchlight Pictures for giving this wide distribution across the UK.

It does so following the film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the modestly-costed  bhas been drawing an audience. Weekend one saw the film gross just over £250,000 across UK screens, and its second weekend brought in a further £150,824, with the movie just about hanging on in there in the top ten. A good few weeks of further word of mouth business – particularly around independent cinemas – were lying ahead.

And then, last week, Disney+ sent out the following Tweet…

The response from many was inevitable: if it’s coming to streaming in just a few weeks, there’s not an awful lot of point going to the cinema to see it, is there?

I don’t buy that, and did buy a ticket. As I discovered, it’s a perfect film to watch with an audience. Still, you don’t need me to reiterate that times are tough at the moment, and every penny counts. And if you were thinking of going to see Rye Lane at the cinema against the many other choices out there, and then you saw that social media post? Well, chances are you’d think twice.

Rye Lane

We’ve seen this before just before Christmas, when independent cinema programmer David Baldwin, writing on this site, lamented the fact that Disney rushed potential awards contenders The Banshees Of Inisherin and The Menu away from cinemas towards their streaming services at some speed. In the case of Banshees, writer/director Martin McDonagh revealed to James and Roger Deakins on their podcast that he had to fight to get a two month theatrical window for his film. Even then, that’s looking more like the exception than the norm for films of that ilk.

Opinions were divided when we raised the issue back then. One side of the argument was from people who couldn’t go to the cinema, or who couldn’t afford to go to the cinema, who wanted to see the movie sooner and happily greeted the Disney+ early debut. On the other, the feeling that a potentially long tail cinema run, vital for independent cinemas and very useful for building word of mouth for a film, had been sacrificed at the altar of a streaming service.

I guess the same arguments apply. But in the case of Rye Lane, this isn’t a high profile awards contender that’s had marketing and promotional heft of some weight put behind it. It’s the kind of British romantic comedy that it feels a minor miracle to see on the big screen at all. Especially when it’s going direct to streaming platforms outside of the UK roughly around now.

I’ve no quarrel whatsoever, incidentally, with Disney debuting the movie on its service in this case six weeks or so after its theatrical release. Hats off to its Searchlight arm for giving it the chance to breathe in cinemas at all, and huge congratulations to all concerned.

Rye Lane

But why shoot its knees out, then, and announce the Disney+ release when it’s on its second release in cinemas, and doing rather well? Where’s the gain there? All that’s going to do, surely, is act to deter people from going to watch Rye Lane at the cinema. Couldn’t the announcement have waited just a couple more weeks even? It’s not as if it was on Disney+ that weekend.

I respect the fact that the film is getting the theatrical window it is doing, truly. But surely you undermine it by then announcing so early in that run that you’ve not got too long to wait until it’s on streaming anyway? And to declare the exact date as well, when it’s a little way away.

I did wonder if I was overreacting a little here, and maybe I am. But trawling through some of the chatter about the film online since the Disney+ announcement was made, and there’s clearly conversation going on about giving the cinema release a miss now. Both online, and from people I know.

I really feel that’s a shame. Of course, the film is still playing in cinemas, and it was after the announcement came out that I paid to watch it myself. I’m really glad I did, too. It’ll likely find homes in independent venues over the next few weeks. It’s just the incentive to see it on the big screen has been lessened somehow, and a film that had an outside shot of being a longer-running word of mouth cinema success – such as a film like Mark Jenkins’ Bait – has had that opportunity taken away.

Do check the film out. It’s an absolute treat, and one of my favourite movies in ages. And it really is delightful in a cinema…

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