Dating Amber centres on Eddie and Amber, two gay teenagers who fake a romantic relationship at school to convince their tormenting classmates they are straight and otherwise ‘normal’.
Director David Freyne sets his upbeat comedy in rural Ireland in 1995, just a few years after homosexuality was legalised. Bigotry and homophobia are still rife as Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) independently navigate the minefields of the school hierarchy and parental expectations.
The pressure of sexual maturity is inescapable in this small town, with almost all aspects of society relating to a heteronormative mould. For example, conversations at school crudely revolve around bragging about what everyone does sexually, gyrating gestures, and spouting out salacious taunts in the classroom. Even Amber runs a side-hustle of renting out her mother’s caravan park to her fellow school students to have sex in.
The rough-mannered Amber concocts a plan with Eddie to pretend to be in a relationship to get through the end of high school. As outcasts at school, they develop a genuinely heart-warming friendship that allows them to understand each other’s sexuality. However, as Amber develops a relationship with a woman, Sarah, whom she met at a gay bar, she grows tired of the faux relationship and leaves Eddie out in the cold. Eddie, though, remains in denial of his sexuality and co-dependent on their friendship. At this stage, Dating Amber effortlessly integrates its deeper themes of loving and accepting oneself as the pathos of these characters is crystallised.
The script’s complexity is unsheathed in moments of dry humour that reveal the deeply repressed desires of its main characters. In its most liberating moment, Eddie and Amber sneak out to Dublin for a night out and stumble upon a gay bar. Eddie becomes completely entranced by a trans singer on stage, and as they warmly embrace each other, Amber comments to Sarah, “he’s normally a lot straighter than that.” Furthermore, Eddie’s bedroom is adorned with military bullets that may serve as phallic symbols and posters of army men, as he insists “there is nothing gay about my room”, but Amber and his mother can read between the lines.
The contours of their relationship are so affectionately and complexly drawn that they perhaps stand out too much as characters compared to their caricature schoolmates. This effervescent coming-of-age rom-com is delightful and witty while sneaking through a loving compassion for its characters that makes it well worth watching.
Lola Petticrew and Fionn O’Shea became such best friends through the audition chemistry test and film shoot, that they ended up isolating together during the COVID-19 pandemic.