Dating Amber is easily the first coming-of-age queer story I’ve seen to give me such severe PTSD. Seeing the two central characters, Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), be subjected to such ridicule to the point where they pretend to be a couple despite being a gay and a lesbian, respectively, brought back painful memories of similar ridicule when I was in eighth grade.
During a time where I was unsure of my own sexuality, I had to deal with classmates always badgering me about who I had a crush on and because I tried keeping mum about that particular matter, there was speculation that I liked guys because that’s how things are when you’re an adolescent. There’s always an extreme curiosity as to whether your fellow classmates like guys or girls and need to have them out themselves. Students like Eddie end up hiding their true selves to the point where they develop internalized homophobia because people making fun of you for being queer at a point where you’re starting to figure yourself out makes being queer feel like a severe burden.
Both Eddie’s confused self-hatred mixed with his yearn for desire are both well-executed by Fionn O’Shea who you may remember as Jamie, Marianne’s asshole boyfriend in the BBC miniseries Normal People. In Dating Amber, O’Shea plays someone who’s also hard-edged, but his disheartened face constantly suggests Eddie’s desire to give into his impulses. As for Lola Petticrew as the titular Amber, she’s incredibly feisty as she plays into the charade while gradually forcing Eddie to break out of it once she begins finding love.
In addition, writer/director David Freyne expertly makes hypermasculine patriarchy an unseen antagonist once Eddie trains to join the military with his father helping him train. As bad as it is that his classmates continuously call his sexuality into question, for him to try being a soldier in order to seem more “manly” only gives him more of an identity crisis. Eddie believes he’s ready to join the army, but is he just doing it to appease his family? Since men are often told they must “be a man” or “take it like a man” in case they get emotional, is Eddie just giving into societal pressure men feel to be guarded alphas?
The presence of such norms makes Eddie feel even more encased in his figurative closet than he already is and makes Dating Amber an even more stressful experience for queer youths, especially gays, who’ve similarly felt trapped in the closet. Yet, its candor, and the committed leading performances, are ultimately what give it the emotional gut punch it possesses.