High school is hard. It’s even harder when you have to hide part of yourself because you are so scared of what people will think and say. I mean, I am not saying anything new here, for most LGBTQ+ teens, high school are the years we try and suppress in our memories, preferring to simply ignore the shame and hurt we felt once we finally get free of it all. Not a lot of movies are able to translate this idea of what high school is like for queer kids. Yes, we have seen a lot of coming of age high school film but none quite like Dating Amber does it. Queer teenage stories are rare and few and too often focus on the trouble and difficulty of being young and queer. Sure, Dating Amber does touch on those ideas, after all, how can they ignore it, but at its core, David Freyne’s (The Cured) wrote and directed a film about friendship and love. And to me, that is so refreshing.
For so long films have simply ignored friendships between queer kids. Too often, the gay kid is a loner or just surrounded by a bunch of straight kids and they quickly become the token gay character in the film. Even when they are at the center of the story, they are too often by themselves, discovering their truth without anyone to guide then. And sure, that is a truth to certain people, but maybe, just maybe, that isn’t universal. Gay people hang out together, we have fun, we cling to each other because perhaps no one can truly understand what we are going through. Even more so in high school, we seek each other out even without ever saying the words. Friendships between queer kids exist, Hollywood simply decides to ignore it. Dating Amber understands that, Eddie and Amber come together for one reason only, because they are the only two gay kids in their world, and they need each other more then anything else.
Anchored by terrific performances from Finn O’Shea (Handsome Devil) and Lola Petticrew (A Bump Along the Way), Dating Amber relies greatly on the two and their friendship. Without them, there is no movie. Amber and Eddie are the backbone of the film, the center of it all. Their chemistry bleeds off the screen, Amber and Eddie’s friendship reminds me of so many of mine. The easy banter, the way you can be truly yourself with one person, having these moments that no one understand the feeling it provides you with like going to your first club. I might not have grown up in Ireland in the 1990’s but I get them, because in every way I was them. The queer kid being scared of being discovered and doing everything in her power to hide the best part of herself. It’s without a doubt one of the truest friendship I have seen in film and without their two leads, Dating Amber would not be what it is.
Sure, Dating Amber falls at time in tropes and follow a story that is pretty well known but I can’t be mad at it. Because I felt seen, I saw myself in Amber and how she refused to settle for anything other then her happiness. But I also saw myself in Eddie and how far he would go in order to hide his homosexuality in order to please other. Coming of age film, at least queer ones, are always about loving someone else. But Dating Amber is about loving yourself, accepting yourself, knowing your truth. And that is a struggle that every single queer teenager faces. Acceptance is one thing, loving yourself is another.
I have talked and written a lot over the last year about how I am tired of queer cinema always being about oppression and about being hurt. Sure, those stories are important but why are they the only one we get. Yes, Dating Amber is a another coming of age story but it is done different. It isn’t about tragedy or hurt, it’s about friendship and love. It’s different, it’s fresh, it’s funny. Queer films too often leave me hurt and crying, and yes, I cried with this one but I also laughed, smiled and by the end, I had hope. Hope that Eddie and Amber would be happy and be themselves. The screen turned to black and I wasn’t filed with dread and sorrow, I was happy and smiling because I had seen myself on screen. I knew that they would both be okay, because I’m okay. This is the type of film I want to see, one that I think about the young queer teenagers still in the closet will watch and smile and know that one day they will be fine.
Dating Amber doesn’t reinvent the coming of age story but it sure as well makes it refreshing to watch.