Laugh-out-loud, optimistic films about queer people can at the best of times be difficult to come by. More than ever, as people around the world spend their time indoors quarantining to crush the spread of coronavirus, such an antidote is needed – and it can be found in Irish director David Freyne’s new film Dating Amber.
For Freyne, growing up most films about being gay were “Quite depressing – gay people were dying of AIDS of being beaten up and persecuted. Those are really important films and some of my favourites, but they give you a sort of narrow, horrible view of what your future is going to be.”
That’s why he wanted to make Dating Amber – a funny, heartwarming friendship story about coming out and coming of age.
“I love comedies and I really want to make people laugh and see the kind of film you just don’t see when you’re growing up gay,” Freyne said.
Dating Amber tells the story of Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), two gay teenagers in rural Ireland who pretend to date each other in an attempt to convince their questioning (and sometimes cruel) classmates that they are straight. The film is set in 1995, the year of the Divorce Referendum, and two years after being gay was decriminalised.
It depicts the awkwardness and pain of coming out as well as the joy and comfort found in queer friendships. The friendship that blossoms between the characters is utterly magical and any queer person who has found their family in the LGBT+ community will instantly relate.
Dating Amber is not without its earnest and poignant scenes, too, though by the end, the tears are happy tears and there’s a sense there is something positive ahead in both of their futures.
The film comes at a time in the world where there is a growing appetite for Irish films. The success of shows like Derry Girls and more recently, Normal People, which Fionn O’Shea also stars in, has meant national and international viewers alike are crying out for more Irish stories.
There is a “wealth of young Irish acting talent that is going to explode in the next couple of years”, Freyne says, adding that he is grateful to Normal People for “already introducing the word ‘shifting’ to the world” before the release of Dating Amber.
But the film is also a very personal story for Freyne. It’s set where he grew up, on the incredibly cinematic Curragh in Kildare, and it’s semi-autobiographical – taking place in 1995 as the boy, who’s dad is a soldier like Freyne’s, is coming to terms with the fact he’s gay.
Despite that personal nostalgia for Freyne, the setting is secondary. It could be set at any time and in any rural town and it would still be as relevant now as it was then.
“What I found really interesting with the young cast was how much they identified with it and how much they had stories that were like those in the film. And those stories are far more recent than mine. So what became very apparent is that yes, Ireland has moved on in such an incredible way in recent years with the Marriage Referendum and Repeal, but there’s still a way to go socially. In many ways, there’s a misconception about how easy it is to come out now,” Freyne says.
“For me, this is the film I wished I had when I was younger because I think it would’ve maybe made it a bit easier and that maybe it’s not so hopeless,” he adds.
There is an exceptional charm, warmth and relatability to the characters in Dating Amber. Everyone has their scene-stealing moments that Freyne jokes will become “future gifs and memes”.
It was important for Freyne to give the characters “really fleshed out lives” and that he didn’t “treat their queerness as just a theory”. Their sexuality is very much clear and visible not just in the conversations between characters but in their on-screen love, romances and sex.
The heart and soul of the film is the friendship between Eddie and Amber. They are each other’s first loves and they are their own worst enemies. Ultimately, those around them will come to accept who they are but it’s about coming to terms with themselves and their own internalised homophobia.
The chemistry is electric between the actors and their friendship feels so real that it is hardly a surprise to see O’Shea and Petticrew have moved in together for the duration of the quarantine.
“The minute they met they became inseparable – they’ve barely spent a week apart since filming,” Freyne laughs, delighted at how well they’ve worked together because all of his anxiety about this film was about the casting process. “But once we got their self-tapes we knew they were special”.
There was some concern about whether the film would get lost when the coronavirus outbreak occurred and cinemas closed. Thankfully, an opportunity for the film to be on Amazon Original arrived.
It’s been a “bizarre” time for Freyne and the crew. “Everyone has kind of had to think on their feet and re-strategise. We just finished post-production in March so to get the film out so quickly and to have this wonderful opportunity with Amazon Original and to bring people a smile when they’re in quarantine has been really nice,” he says.
The film is fresh and hilarious and viewers can rest assured they will find themselves and the people they love in these characters. It’s the funny, warm film that we all need right now.
Dating Amber premieres on Amazon Prime Video on June 4 before opening in cinemas later this year.
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