Dating Amber - Coming of age and coming out in County Kildare
3.5 out of 5
It's been some time since I put pen to paper to review a film but Dating Amber has drawn me out and the irony is not lost on me.
Originally targeting some film festivals and cinematic release, David Freyne's latest film, Dating Amber, has found I think, a natural home on the lock-down small screen. Available on Amazon's Prime Video, it's a sharp, cute, political and comedic story told in a trim 92 minutes. I giggled in all the right places (cue Nun making hand gestures during sex-ed video) and I cried in all the right places (too many to list).
The film, originally running under the title "Beards" tells the story of Eddie (Fionn O'Shea) and the titular Amber (Lola Petticrew) who we find being bullied in their final year of secondary school. He because he hasn't been seen shifting any girls and her because she eschews the scene and is classified as the class "lezza". They decide, for safety and sanity, to pretend to date each other to reduce or minimize the bullying, which is relentless and creative. Their home lives are no less complex. Amber's father took his own life some years previously and she visits the spot, the tree where he hung himself, on occasions of sadness and melancholy. For his part, Eddie's family is also not a haven for him. His parents' marriage is rocky at best. His Dad is in the Irish Army and Eddie is keen to also join the army which, he hopes, will start a tradition and also mean he can avoid facing up to his sexuality.
The film is written and directed by David Freyne who also gave us 2017's The Cured which I loved for it's allegorical and political themes. Dating Amber is change of tack but not completely because it still has a lot to say about society, politics, bullying and prejudice. It's beautifully filmed by Ruari O'Brien around Newbridge, Co. Kildare, where I live - so maybe some bias there.
The two central performances from Fionn O'Shea as Eddie and Lola as Amber are stand-out brilliant. Lola Petticrew brought a shy yet brash coquettish performance which, coupled with an underlying subversive attitude made Amber a delight to watch. As in real life, at that age, Amber displayed more maturity and appeared to have a direction to her life unlike poor Eddie who say only one option for him - to join the army. Fionn O'Shea, fresh from Normal People gave a nuanced performance. At first he appeared almost listless on screen, so much so that I began to dis-engage from the character. However as he came alive and was allowed to be himself, I saw the contrast was intentional and I was mistaken. He is a gifted actor.
Sharon Horgan and Barry Ward play Eddie's bickering parents. Horgan is criminally under-used but brings her A-game. Ward's arc, as Eddie's Dad was more of a caricature. Yes, he led a life of quiet desperation with his hopes tied to his son's achievements but we never saw much depth beyond that. Their marital disharmony was set against, but never mentioned, the backdrop of Ireland's divorce referendum in the mid 90's. I know it was not the core of the film but I would have liked a few more lines of dialogue between them. It's one of the loose-ends in the script.
Ultimately this is a tragic-comedy. The lighter, more laugh-out-loud moments are in the films first half while the darker, grittier,dealing-with-life-consequences are in the second half, mirroring the maturing of the characters. I felt too much of the emotional weight, the resolution of the film was left to Amber. Eddie appeared to get off lightly even though he caused the most pain. That, like life, was messy.
All in all, this is a charming coming-out and coming-of-age film about two young people finding themselves. I laughed and I cried. If cinema is an empathy-generating machine then Dating Amber pushed all the right buttons.