DIR/WRI: David Freyne • DOP: Ruairí O’Brien • ED: Joe Sawyer • PRO: John Keville, Rachael O’Kane • CAST: Fionn O’Shea, Lola Petticrew, Barry Ward
Set against a backdrop of 1990s Ireland, and with many ’90s references, Dating Amber is director David Freyne’s latest offering since 2018’s The Cured. Freyne moves from the zombie genre into the coming-of-age realm with the story of Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) who reside on the fringes of their school’s social sphere. Eddie is frequently mocked for his lack of success with the opposite sex and Amber is ridiculed for her indifference to the status quo. They appear as polar opposites – Eddie wants to join the Irish Army to create a new family tradition and Amber wants to move to London to live an anti-establishment life. However different they may seem, Eddie and Amber share one thing in common – they’re gay. To prevent their secret becoming public knowledge in school, they pretend to be a couple and they must navigate their new status together.
There is lots to enjoy in Dating Amber, especially the acting. Unlike the smug callous nature of his role as Jamie in Normal People, Fionn O’Shea is captivating and sympathetic as Eddie. Fionn’s eyes were destined to be on the big screen and they alone make you believe in Eddie’s turbulent emotional state. After starring in 2019’s A Bump Along the Way, Lola Petticrew, as Amber, is another piece of genius casting and she’s the yin to Eddie’s yang and they both embark upon a coming-of-age journey for which they offer natural and human performances. Amber has some of the best lines in the film, and upon hearing of Eddie’s desire to join the Irish Army, she lets him down swiftly saying his army role will “more likely to be filling in for binmen on strike”.
Dating Amber is set in 1995 and contains multiple ’90s references with the likes of characters wearing Féile t-shirts, Pulp songs used in the soundtrack, and Blur versus Oasis arguments. More importantly, Freyne setting this film in 1995 carries socio-political relevance. With Ireland only legalising homosexuality in 1993, these two characters are still nervous to accept and embrace their sexualities. Eddie is determined to follow his father in joining the army and the masculine archetype he chooses means his internal homophobia is more volatile. Amber is presented as the punk who prefers Bikini Kill over Oasis and is already loud and proud, but not with her sexuality. The film also touches upon the 1995 divorce referendum and its potential impact for Eddie’s bickering parents (Sharon Horgan and Barry Ward), which is worryingly-noted by Eddie’s ‘Vote No’-canvassing brother.
The film owes a debt to Richard Ayoade’s Submarine with similar stylistic cues and themes. Amber wears a similar duffle coat and hairstyle to Jordana’s; a beach scene echoes the climactic scenes from Submarine; and the relationship between Eddie and Amber is very much akin to Oliver and Jordana’s. It also has a lot in common thematically with John Butler’s Handsome Devil. It has Fionn O’Shea playing another ostracised school-goer but both films capture the environs that present challenges for LGBTQ+ individuals to feel accepted within.
Much like Handsome Devil, the thematic weight of Dating Amber is aided by humour and a lot of heart. There is the nun and her hand gestures disapproving of non-heterosexual sex on a sex-ed videotape; Eddie’s middling army preparations; Amber and Eddie’s ‘relationship’ and friendship; Sharon Horgan negotiating two sequences with a subtlety that carries so much emotional heft. There is so much to be appreciated and enjoyed by a universal audience and the film could be utilised as an educational tool regarding sexuality both on and off screen.
Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew are stellar as Eddie and Amber, and with Dating Amber, David Freyne has crafted a special film to be immensely proud of.
Dating Amber premieres on Amazon Prime Video on 4th June 2020 in Ireland & the UK and will be released in cinemas later this summer.