Kildare, Ireland. 1995. Two outcasts (Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew) in their final year of school have more to contend with than homework and the boredom of life in rural Ireland – both are gay. To cover it up, they decide to start a pretend relationship in order to fit in.
Dating Amber is a prime example of rom-com film structure. The couple meet. At first, they bicker, but then get together. They get to know each other more deeply than anyone else. The final act triggers a crisis that risks them ‘breaking up’. The pair reconcile before a metaphorical departure. All standard. The twist here? While protagonists Eddie and Amber love each other, they certainly do not love each other’s genitalia. The film’s working title – ‘Beards – is an apt description for this tale of two lovers discovering themselves in one another.
O’Shea and Petticrew play off one another very well, despite comfortably fitting into rom-com archetypes. Eddie is the highly strung conservative, growing up in the shadow of his family’s army traditions and his parents’ dissolving marriage. Amber is the off-the-wall one, an amateur anarchist dreaming of escaping her cold mother. This is reflected in the pair’s life paths. Eddie wants to stay in Kildare and join the military, like his father. Amber wants to move to London. However, O’Shea and Petticrew deliver such feeling and nuanced performances that you hardly notice these characters are not ground-breakingly original, and as the pair become closer their changing priorities seem totally organic. Elsewhere, while there are a couple of nailed-on comic turns from supporting actors, characters in the background are mostly left in the background, with no resolution for some character arcs. Dating Amber is really focused on its two stars.
The difference between director David Freyne’s first feature, The Cured, and this film couldn’t have been any more dramatic. The Cured was an original idea that fell a little flat. Dating Amber, meanwhile, is wowing audiences with a simple twist on a classic tale. Freyne largely leaves his script to do the storytelling with a low-key directorial style, but does particularly well in rooting the film in its 90s-ness. The clothing choices are questionable. Characters argue over whether Oasis or Blur is better. The film’s opening sequence delivers news of the day, including Ireland’s 1995 divorce referendum, over a crackly TV. We know we are not of our time anymore; but in this directing, Freyne makes an interesting social point. Setting the film distinctly in the past makes it easy for us as viewers to separate then from now, to say “I can’t believe it used to be like that”. However, the ending of Dating Amber is no doubt familiar to many people who struggle with their identity to this day. It’s a clever thematic choice for Freyne, and shows we still have work to do as a society.
Freyne’s script is a pretty paint-by-numbers narrative, bringing Eddie and Amber together under false pretences before they ‘accidentally’ develop feelings for one another. This sincerity is well broken up with humour as the pair work against one another and the world to discover who they really are. A little twist of something new to the rom-com genre could have improved the film, but can still stand on its own two feet as one of the genre’s more entertaining films.
Dating Amber is a sweet and simple story looking back to a time we think so different from now. In reality, we still have a long way to go to make stories like this historical fiction. 6.5/10.
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