From writer-director David Freyne, known for the 2017 zombie thriller The Cured, comes a sweet coming-of-age drama that explores the struggle of finding and accepting yourself and your queerness, in a world that would prefer you didn’t exist. Starring Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew, Dating Amber is a crude yet adorably crafted tale of friendship and sexuality in small town Ireland.
It’s 1995 and teens Amber (Pettigrew) and Eddie (O’Shea) are just trying to survive their final year of high school in their rural Irish town. Eddie, the oldest of 2 boys, is firmly in denial of his sexuality and relentlessly tries to live up to the ideals of a ‘real man’ by following his dad into the army. Amber, an only child of a widowed mother, knows exactly who she is and is secretly saving up money to move to London. Perhaps the only kids in their class that aren’t having sex, Amber and Eddie are bullied by their classmates for being gay (not that they know that for sure) and in an effort to avoid the lewd jeers and name-calling of their peers, they pretend to date.
Utilising the classic fake relationship trope, Dating Amber is a really sweet and unconventional love story. With two queer characters pretending to be a heterosexual couple, the charade of the relationship allows for Eddie and Amber to develop a deep and loving friendship with each other as they explore and come to terms with their sexualities. The small, insular town and decade that they live in provides unique challenges to both their journeys – only 2 years prior it was illegal to be gay in Ireland, so while the law might not stand in their way anymore, the ignorance and prejudice of an intensely Catholic community the size of a kiddy wading pool definitely does.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, for Eddie in particular, is the internalised homophobia that can develop when the world around you enforces heteronormative ideals. Eddie’s home and school life is flooded with extremely outdated ideals of masculinity; his father often encourages Eddie to take on a military career, while his classmate’s conversations almost entirely consist of which girl they’re hooking up with and how far they’ve gone.
Amber, on the other hand, is full of spunk. Embodying the popular Riot Grrrl attitude of the era, she waxes poetics about which punk bands are legit and lectures Eddie on feminism. But under the surface, Amber can be just as vulnerable. Her mother, unsure of how to deal with someone with so much agency, often contradicts herself; one moment she’s preaching the importance of abstinence, and the next she’s encouraging Amber to doll herself up to impress boys.
The decision for the pair to come together and date, albeit begrudgingly, was a crucial turning point in both their lives. As both teens struggled quietly with their sexualities and conflicting emotions, living in a judgmental community and with families that are not as nurturing as they could be, the pretend relationship gave them both the space required to explore their innermost thoughts and feelings. Watching their relationship develop from its awkward first date to the extreme comfort of laying together in the school yard felt like a privilege. Finally, Amber and Eddie had the support they both desperately needed.
One thing Dating Amber does really well is explore the complexities of being a young adult. When you’ve been raised to think one thing is the norm, realising you don’t fit the mould can generate intense feelings of shame. The mirrored storyline of Eddie coming to terms with who he is and his parents’ brewing divorce adds an extra layer to the film, with Eddie’s shame often reflected in his younger brother. Both boys visibly struggle to accept that their lives are not ‘normal’ and deal with that shame in varying ways, from Eddie expressing angry outbursts to Jack printing and distributing fliers opposing the country’s divorce referendum. Meanwhile, Amber is still learning to process the death of her father and her sense of having outgrown their town. Although Amber’s issues are explored in less detail, perhaps because she’s more self-aware than Eddie, writer-director Freyne still gives audiences some crucial moments that give great insight into who Amber is and who she wishes to be.
Dating Amber, although a comedy, packs in some beautiful dramatic moments that give the film added depth and hits all the right emotional chords. Exploring the struggles of self-preservation, self-acceptance, self-love and finding your tribe, Dating Amber has something for everyone that audience to relate to, but especially young queer people.