Dating Amber ****
Updated: Jan 6
Starring: Finn O'Shea, Lola Petticrew, Sharon Horgan, Barry Ward
Director: David Freyne
From Handsome Devil to Sing Street, Ireland has produced some fantastic nostalgic teen comedies in recent years and Dating Amber is the latest to add to the collection, which is set in County Kildare in 1995.
Eddie (O’Shea – Handsome Devil, Normal People) is at high school and desperately trying to balance coming to terms with his sexuality and concealing it from everyone around him. His father (Ward – The End Of The F***ing World) is a military commander, who is very keen that his son should follow in his footsteps and join the army, while his mother (Horgan – Catastrophe, Pulling) wants him to find his own path. Meanwhile, Amber (Petticrew – A Bump Along The Way) is content that she’s a lesbian, but knows she must wait until she leaves for university before coming out. Seeing a kindred spirit in Eddie, she suggests that the best way they can keep their sexualities hidden is by masquerading as a couple both at school and at home. And so they embark together on an ever-expanding lie, trying to deceive absolutely everyone except each other.
Both its leads are charmingly naïve and sparkle with youthful watchability. Both are flawed, with Amber’s pragmatism getting in the way of her empathy, while Eddie is so far inside the closet that he’s marching around the lamppost with Mr Tumnus. But the friendship that develops between the two is wholesome, endearing and saccharine sweet. With each relying on the other for support, they tentatively explore their true identities from the safety and anonymity their faux relationship affords them.
The script is witty and nostalgic, capturing the awkwardness of adolescence and the essence of teenage shame. Amber and Eddie are adorable but wholly relatable, imbued with the youthful vigour of two on the cusp of adulthood. The script is laden with the one-upmanship of teenage boys, boasting about sex acts they positively haven’t done, with Amber - empowered to the point of almost becoming a higher being - watching disapprovingly from the sidelines. Like a punk Hermione Granger.
Eddie’s relationship with his family is clichéd, with his hyper-masculine father especially a stock character in coming-of-age movies nowadays. The mother is relatively under-developed, which is a shame, because she’s definitely the more interesting of the pair and the most famous face in the film. Eddie’s foul-mouthed younger brother also gets some of the very best lines, but has nowhere near the screen-time you would like for him. Meanwhile, Amber’s mother is fairly one-dimensional, so it falls to the leads to carry the film, which they do, effortlessly.
Director Freyne has said that the film is “fairly autobiographical”, shot on location where he grew up. In one beautiful scene, the pair end up in a Dublin gay bar and Eddie finds himself slow dancing on stage with a maternal drag queen (Johnny Woo), depicting his Bambi-like wobbly first steps into the Gay Community with a mixture of curiosity and mild terror. Though the characters themselves are fictional, many of the anecdotes are drawn from his own life, “the really bad bits are true”.
Dating Amber might not be particularly inventive, but it’s a truthful and clever comedy that captures the purity of a beautiful friendship and the essence of two burgeoning but shy sexual awakenings. Because the film is shown from Freyne’s perspective, the narrative is from Eddie’s eyes, but it could equally have been called “Dating Eddie”, with Amber just as developed a lead. In development, the project carried the working title “Beards”, which I think would actually have been a far better title for the film because it reflects the equality between the pair that we see so brilliantly captured on screen.
A universal movie that depicts a teenage experience that everyone will recognise. This is a sweet little film that slipped under the radar, but deserves a much, much wider audience.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON AMAZON PRIME.