“This place will kill you,” says Amber (Lola Petticrew) to Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) as they look over the green empty countryside and their small village in 1995 Ireland. The two are seniors in the local high school that is amusingly full of hormonal teenagers who are literally air-humping in the schoolyard and bragging about their sexual exploits. But Amber, a confident young woman, already knows she is a lesbian, although closeted thanks to their small town’s love of gossip. What she cannot bear is the teasing and bullying from classmates who are beginning to suspect. So she comes up with a proposal to the nervous and slight Eddie – pretend to date each other to get their classmates off their backs.
Amber has already sized up Eddie and guesses correctly that he’s gay. But Eddie is happy in his closet and unwilling to even say the word “gay” much less admit his identity to himself. Still, he likes Amber’s idea and goes along with being her boyfriend.
DATING AMBER was one of the most talked-about films at NewFest 2020
DATING AMBER, another gem from Irish Screen, is head and shoulders above what you might expect to be a straightforward teen comedy about two friends serving as each other’s beard. It’s touching, superbly written and acted. Wide-eyed O’Shea (like an Irish Timothee Chalamet) was recently nominated with a “European Shooting Star” for his note-perfect performance here. Not only does the film enjoy a wicked comic streak replete with nuns in every corner – watch for the cringiest sex ed video ever – but O’Shea’s struggle to come out buckles under pressure from a father (Barry Ward) who wants him to join the military and a sensitive if harried mother (the always wonderful Sharon Horgan).
But it’s Lola Petticrew who steals the show. Reminiscent of a young Julie Walters, Petticrew’s Amber is brash, confident and ambitious. She has plans to graduate high school, escape their dreary hometown to go to London and open an anarchist bookstore. Writer/director David Freyne (THE CURED) has painted a very full picture of laughter and tears, teenage angst, small-town vibes and a coming-of-age story without resorting to anything you’ve seen before. Must stream!