Irish writer-director David Freyne returned to his hometown in County Kildare for his second feature film, the semi-autobiographical Dating Amber.
Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Pettigrew) star as two gay teenagers struggling to survive the prejudice and teasing they face in a small Irish town.
It’s set in 1995, only two years since homosexuality has been decriminalised and divorce just made legal.
Eddie’s dad Ian (Barry Ward) is a macho army officer with high hopes his puny, sensitive son will follow him into the army.
Eddie is taunted daily because he has never had a girlfriend. He is in full self-denial about his homosexuality and plans to do exactly what is expected of him – join the army and marry a nice girl.
Amber is much stronger. She knows she is gay, scornfully dismissing the school taunts that she is lesbian, and can’t wait to finish school and escape to London.
“This place will kill you,” she tells Eddie.
She challenges him to accept that they both are gay, and persuades him that they should pretend to be dating each other, to fool their teasing classmates.
For a while the charade works perfectly. The pair develop a genuine friendship and affection for each other.
The chemistry between O’Shea and Pettigrew is real, and there are some lovely scenes of the pair having fun together.
They even have a forbidden jaunt to Dublin, where their eyes are opened wide when they stumble on their first gay bar.
The experience affects each of them differently. Amber embraces the prospect of living her life without pretence. Eddie is still confused and ashamed.
There is a touching scene, which director Freyne says is close to his own experience, when Eddie’s mother (Sharon Horgan), comes to his room and tries to get him to confide in her about his sexuality.
A hilarious moment, so bizarre that it must be based on truth, portrays a nun giving the class a talk on sex.
This is a brave, funny and touching film, which deals honestly and sensitively about the emotional trauma of gay teens in a homophobic society.
Dating Amber is part of the Perth Festival Lotterywest film season. It will show at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from Monday to Sunday, February 8 to 15.
Watch the trailer…