Every teenager is trying to find their own identity. But what if the whole town hates you for it? With a cupful of cheesy Irish charm, the cracking new romantic comedy Dating Amber follows two gay teens through the ups and downs of an unwilling journey to self-acceptance.
Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) are stuck in a toxic and heteronormative hellhole. It’s small-town dead-end rural Ireland, the 1990s, and somehow the entire school has worked out their sexuality before either of them. Faced with daily heckling and ridicule, the teenagers form an alliance, and then a friendship. If they can convince everyone that they are dating each other, the sticky questions might stop. Thus begins an experiment that soon explodes into a careering adventure of self-discovery.
Dating Amber is full of tropes, which the filmmakers bring out in all their gleeful hilarity. The feisty lesbian, the imbecile bully, the scrawny boy trying to man up; each one is charmingly brought to life, and then used as fodder for one funny and cutting moment after another.
The film’s farcical humour almost turns into a social commentary. Amongst the straights, nobody is happy, and nobody seems to be going anywhere. Eddie’s parents are stuck in a hostile marriage. Puerile boys bicker with their dead-eyed girlfriends. The genuine chemistry between Eddie and Amber serves as a biting contrast to the dead relationships paraded one after another across the screen. It’s energising to watch them in their search for something better.
But, first they must find their own identity—and it’s a messy affair. In the scramble to whip up a ruse, intentions and emotions get mixed up. Gay and straight, expectation and truth, friendship and love: opposites begin to tangle and trap Eddie forever. As the closet closes in around him, the comedy fades, the laughs take on a sadder tone, and the film transforms into a rewarding and compelling drama.
The palpable authenticity of the leads’ performances is the film’s driving force. Petticrew is outstanding, imbuing her character with personality, soul, and cheek. She lives and breathes Amber, instilling her with a life force that peels back the dismal fog of the town. O’Shea’s character is stereotyped early on; with faltering words and quivering hands, he is the shy misfit we have seen on screen many times before. But in time, as Eddie is faced with a truth that is increasingly difficult to ignore, O’Shea strikingly brings out Eddie’s inner life. We see the anger, denial, and profound shame of a young man that realises he cannot be what society expects.
The 90s setting doesn’t drag the film into nostalgia. On the contrary, the filmmakers decide on a delightfully theatrical aesthetic that perfectly complements the comedy. With bright colours and bold sets, every shot pops out of the screen. At the same time, the folk soundtrack underscores the small-town teenage experience, and the personal struggle that lies underneath.
Dating Amber’s genius come from its fusion of comedy and romance. The versatile scriptwriting creates something that’s genuinely funny yet still packs a resounding punch. Perhaps this is a romcom with baggage. But watching our two young heroes make something wonderful from the dirt on their plate is what makes the film so rewarding to watch.
“This place will kill you,” spits Amber, on one cold afternoon.
Not if you don’t let it.
4.5 Pelicans out of 5
Dating Amber is screening at Somerville Auditorium on 30 March, 1 April and 3 April
Words by Alex Lindsay
Image by Perth Festival