Romantic dramedy, not rated, 92 minutes, Fandango Now, 3 chiles
Amber doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t want to. She has green streaks in her hair, she doesn’t sway her hips when she walks, and she’s not interested in any of the uncouth teenage boors that proposition her at school. For this, they have labeled her a lesbian. Eddie, on the other hand, strives to belong. Despite being scrawny and relatively unathletic, he’s training so that he can follow his father into the military. The boors at school tease him mercilessly about his lack of experience with girls.
In writer and director David Freyne’s semiautobiographical film Dating Amber, it’s 1995 and Northern Ireland is still mired in The Troubles between Unionists and Irish Nationalists. It’s also the year that Ireland amended its constitution to legalize divorce. These somewhat underdeveloped political scenarios underscore the Catholicism of Eddie and Amber’s small town in County Kildare, where coming out of the closet isn’t an option. Amber (Lola Petticrew) is almost ready, but she is knee-jerk resentful about the scrutiny of other people, and she’d prefer to start fresh by moving to London after high school graduation. Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) is repressed and self-loathing. He can’t even say that he’s gay to himself. Because she’s certain that he’s gay, Amber suggests that she and Eddie fake a romantic relationship so that everyone will stop bothering them.
Freyne easily captures the beats of this slightly off-kilter teen romantic comedy, but the script would have benefited from deeper characterizations of the supporting players and expansion of subplots. Amber has recently lost one of her parents, and Eddie’s mother and father fight every night. O’Shea plays Eddie’s discomfort with himself as physically painful, always wrinkling his face and wringing his hands in anxiety. It’s a high contrast to Petticrew’s solid and sparkling Amber, who champions punk bands like Bikini Kill and wants to write for a ’zine. She’d fulfill the cinematic trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who primarily functions as Eddie’s coming-out cheerleader, if not for her total lack of interest in appealing to boys, including Eddie.
O’Shea and Petticrew have natural comedic chemistry. Their mutual discomfort is played for laughs as they lean into and away from physical displays of affection designed to convince others they are in love. (There is a serious undercurrent in scenes where Eddie pushes himself to do things with girls that he doesn’t want to do.) But what starts out as a begrudging partnership between two closeted queer teens blossoms into a glorious platonic friendship of comfort and discovery. At least until the potential for real romance makes being a beard less appealing.