By George Lanigan, Second Year, English
A mother asks her daughter ‘would you not try a bit of lipstick?’ and a father asks his son ‘can you do a chin up yet?’. Questions of gender and societal conformity are at the heart of Dating Amber, an Irish coming-of-age drama that has recently been added to Amazon Prime.
Directed by David Freyne, the plot of Dating Amber revolves around two closeted teenagers in 90s Ireland, who fake a heterosexual relationship to escape school bullying and parental hostility.
Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) have each learnt to repress their homosexuality. While Amber harbours dreams of travelling to London to set up an ‘anarchist bookshop’, Eddie trains for the army, retreating into his father’s hyper-masculine world, depicted in the military posters and bullets he keeps in his room. However, the central platonic friendship begins to unravel as Amber begins to fully accept herself, while the reticent Eddie refuses to acknowledge his homosexuality.
Petticrew and O’Shea are a fine pair of actors who inhabit the roles effortlessly. O’Shea, instantly recognisable from BBC’s recent hit-show Normal People, delivers an infinitely likeable performance, encapsulating teenage awkwardness in a tentative, physical performance.
Petticrew’s Amber nicely contrasts Eddie, bringing charisma and verbal wit (abrasively telling Eddie ‘you walk like you’re repressing all your emotions and you have no joints’). The verbal sparring between the two characters is where the film excels, it is always a pleasure to see two talented actors bouncing off each other, fuelled by striking lines of dialogue.
The repression of homosexuality and the depiction of an antiquated prejudice society are tough subject matters to tackle and the film is far from ‘hilarious’ as the Amazon Prime website labels it. However, the seriousness of its central themes are elegantly balanced by the subtle integration of light-hearted moments and the comedy is knowingly unassuming, as David Freyne’s direction never wholly fishes for laughs.
The movie's positive tone is also maintained with a strong score by Hugh Drumm, who uses electronics to reflect the duo’s gradual sense of sexual liberation.
In many ways Dating Amber fits a classic romcom structure, from the first tentative 'date', to the bonding montage, to the inevitable falling-out - many moments would not seem out of place in a Richard Curtis movie. However, the film refreshingly subverts these genre clichés by placing a platonic relationship at the heart of its story, where the characters transcend their assigned gender roles.
The verbal sparring between the two characters is where the film excels
Freyne’s direction is nuanced and unobtrusive. At a school dance, the girls are shown to be stood on one side of the hall and boys the other, a familiar Mexican standoff that is subtly shot but nicely judged. However, Freyne’s script is a touch jarring at times (Amber’s mother tells her ‘boys don’t respect girls that spread their legs’, moments before saying ‘your Dad would be so proud of you’), but on the whole the screenplay is witty, with well-drawn out characters.
The surrounding drama drags at times. A subplot focusing on Eddie’s parents’ marital conflict is unengaging and under-developed and Eddie’s army training is a little on-the-nose in its portrayal of masculinity. Additionally, the school bullies also remain frustratingly two-dimensional, with a histrionic depiction of the drama of the school classroom that is inconsistent with the subtle growing attachment between the lead characters. Yet these are minor faults; it is the duo’s complex relationship that dominates the film.
The ending is rather predictably saccharine, given the sincere tone of the film, but plausible, and thus falls short of melodrama.
Although Dating Amber may not be game-changing, it feels particularly relevant in LGBTQ+ Pride Month and is well-worth the succinct 92-minute running time.
Featured: IMDB / Atomic 80 / Prime Video UK
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