Dating Amber is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Combining the wit and charm of the Derry Girls with a nuanced and tender story of friendship, identity, and escape, Dating Amber is a wee gem of LGBTQ+ cinema. Here both the male and female experiences of coming out in 90s Ireland find a dedicated voice in a screenplay rich in humour, emotion, and awkwardness.
Growing up gay in the early 1990s was not a bed of roses, as I know from personal experience, from the continuing fear of AIDS to homophobic newspapers and school endorsed queer baiting. Meanwhile, the newly emerging lad culture only increased the homophobia on offer through a mix of toxic masculinity and drinking culture. For most boys I knew back in the mid-90s, the idea of gay men was enough to make them shiver over their bottle of Hooch. Meanwhile, lesbians were reduced to a fantasy goal for straight boys hooked on FHM magazine.
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Don’t get me wrong, there was also plenty of progress, but outside of the big cities, gay teenage life remained something to be ashamed of. Of course, things did improve by the late 1990s here in Britain as a new Labour government heralded the beginning of widespread legal change. But in Ireland, being gay remained a criminal act until 1993, and changes in LGBTQ+ equality took a slower course, something I was more than aware of when living in Cork as a student in 1998.
Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) is a boy committed to following in his dad’s footsteps by joining the army, with his school life mired in homophobic jokes about his lack of a girlfriend. But to add to his troubles, Eddie’s home life is consumed by his parent’s marital problems and a younger brother who provides daily commentary on his non-existent sex life. Meanwhile, fellow student Amber (Lola Petticrew) suffers the same homophobic taunts and jibes as everyone speculates about her sexuality, her volatile life with her mum caught up in the waves of her dad’s suicide years before.
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However, when Amber suggests to Eddie that school life may be easier for them if they pretend to be a couple, Eddie is initially filled with horror. Does this mean Amber knows his deepest and darkest secret? Eddie is gay, his journey of self-discovery shrouded in confusion and a strong desire to sleep with his teacher. Amber is more advanced and confident yet equally tired of the homophobia she endures daily. Therefore both teens enter into a relationship of convenience that soon becomes a journey of love, self-acceptance, support, and escape.
There are clear parallels to Handsome Devil, Sex Education and Submarine in the story that ensues. However, Dating Amber also holds its own as a warm, funny, and emotional journey into teenage belonging and pride. The result is a truly delightful coming of age film that shines with outstanding and energetic performances, sharp humour and bags of love.
Director: David Freyne