Amber and Eddie aren’t exactly friends, but they have things in common. The Catholic school classmates are both growing up in the ’90s, in a countryside village outside of Dublin, where they’re made to feel like outcasts. For various reasons, all the kids at school, and really everyone in their lives, figure that Eddie is gay and Amber is a lesbian, despite their protestations to the contrary.
Fed up with being bullied, taunted, and scorned, the pair team up to become Cardinal Xavier school’s most unexpected and buzzed-about couple, a clever solution to their mutual plight — if not a real answer to the question of his or her sexuality.
It’s a shrewd premise, from which writer-director David Freyne harvests a fresh (and, reportedly, semi-autobiographical) coming out story in the quite funny Irish comedy Dating Amber (★★★☆☆).
It may be better to call it a “staying in the closet” story, considering that’s more how the film plays out, and where the script and deft editing really locate the comedy in Amber and Eddie’s incongruous romance.
Feeling the eyes of the whole teen world watching them, the pair gradually escalate their convenient fiction with awkward attempts to convince friends and family that they can’t keep their hands off each other.
While Fionn O’Shea, star of the 2016 coming-out drama Handsome Devil, mostly lets his puppy-dog baby blues do Eddie’s talking for him, Lola Petticrew unleashes a comedic spark that brightens every scene. She makes Amber the truth-teller Eddie needs in his life, and the give-no-fucks friend anyone else might want in theirs.
Of course, Amber does deeply care how she’s perceived by her classmates and her ever-worrying mum, Jill (Simone Kirby). Petticrew sheds the girl’s armor of unbothered cool beautifully to reveal how invested she is in understanding her identity.
Eddie, on the other hand, remains stuck in the same gear of petulant denial well past the point of it being endearing or dramatically involving. His stressed parents, Army commandant Ian (Barry Ward) and mom Hannah (Sharon Horgan, ever-reliable), offer a steady source of laughs in their incredulous reactions to “Amber & Eddie,” but they also stay stuck in a pattern of nondescript arguing in the background.
When Freyne aims to hit notes of dark or heavy angst in their household, or between the two leads, they are struck heavily. The repetition whittles down our patience waiting for Eddie to turn certain corners.
Eddie eventually apologizes for some of his most selfish behavior, but that doesn’t earn him the coming out fantasy he might be rewarded. Amber earns every bit of goodwill she might engender, as does the movie’s affectionately ’90s details, from the soundtrack to a playground at war over Oasis versus Blur.
A pre-internet innocence adds to the film’s colorful palette, and to the hopeful sense that a girl like Amber will have a bright future ahead of her beyond 1995.
Dating Amber is currently available on-demand and digital.
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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.
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