David Freyne’s Dating Amber is a much more complex and interesting film than it at first lets on. Yes it’s a kind of romantic-comedy without the romance (platonic-comedy? Is plat-com a thing?) but once those tropes are disposed of there’s more grit lurking beneath the colours and jokes, all anchored by a series of authentic performances. After receiving a digital premiere in the UK and USA, Dating Amber gets the cinematic treatment as the Opening Film at Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney.
Highschooler Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) is in the closet, as is his school-mate Amber (Lola Petticrew). To deflect attention and survive the hell hole that is high school she concocts a plan; they should pretend to date till school’s over and they can escape their small town to live their authentic lives (which for her is to head to London and open an anarchist bookshop with franchise potential). Eddie however, doesn’t have a vision for what he wants his life to be, instead he pursues a military life to impress his dad.
In part it’s a good setup for a high-concept teen comedy, and plays out as such for much of its running time. As it turns out, Eddie and Amber’s high school gossips and bullies know far less about sex and relationships than they boisterously pretend. Meanwhile the headstrong Amber drags Eddie towards accepting his sexuality.
Freyne has spoken about how the 90s set film is quite autobiographical, and has littered this premise with touches that feel far too specific to be invented. An early scene with Eddie sees him blithely ride his bike through a military training exercise (headphones on he can’t hear the screams of warning), nicely setting up his attitude to life – ignore the tough bits and just keep moving. His reaction to seeing a drag queen perform is touching. While a sex ed video presented by a nun is as awkward as you imagine and Amber’s side-hustle of renting out her trailer for horny teens to have sex in is all too believable.
As much as Dating Amber runs to formula, right down to Eddie’s concerned mother (Sharon Horgan) giving a heartwarming speech in the final act, it rises above the cliches thanks to the genuine affection between O’Shea’s Eddie and Petticrew’s Amber. Eddie’s climactic outburst to Amber packs a punch because it’s clear how much these two really love each other.
A surprisingly heartfelt film, Dating Amber is an easy crowd-pleaser and well worth a watch.
By Chad Armstrong
Dating Amber will receive an encore cinema screening on March 3rd. Head to the Mardi Gras Film Festival website for details and to buy tickets. It is available to stream on Amazon Prime in other regions.