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I don’t tend to watch many LGBT movies. If I’m forced to sit through one more secret, doomed romance, or have to hear “But… we can’t! It’s wrong!” stammered one more time, I honestly think I’m going to gouge my eyes out. There’s only so much will-they-won’t-they-oh-whoops-they’ve-been-thwarted-by-homophobia a girl can take.

Dating Amber is a different kind of queer cinema. Set in Ireland in 1995 – scarily, homosexuality has only been legal there since 1993 – Eddie (Fionn O’Shea, Normal People) and Amber (Lola Petticrew, Come Home) are two gay teens who are desperate for escape. For Amber, that’s quite simple: she’s saving up money to get out of town. Once she’s out of Ireland, she can date a girl and open the successful anti-establishment bookshop she’s always wanted. What’s more, she’ll be free from the whispered remarks that have hounded her ever since her dad died.

This re-orientation away from romance is necessary on so many levels.

For Eddie, things are a lot more complicated. When he’s not avoiding his mum and dad’s marital tension, he’s feebly attempting pull-ups in his back garden. If he can just make the cut for the Irish Army, he’ll finally become a Real Man. He’ll find a wife, have a few kids, and spend his lonely, empty evenings dreaming of dick. He can be normal. And he’ll be happy…

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For the moment – and the movie – though, Eddie and Amber are stuck at home and hiding their same-sex attraction. As bullies hone in on their suspicious inability to snag a date, they make a radical agreement that’s more familiar to the format of a fluffy rom-com: just until the end of school, they’ll pretend to be going out. As friendship blooms, what ensues is a moving, thoughtful and repeatedly hilarious romp through queer coming-of-age drama; Dating Amber seems a breath of fresh air amidst the cesspit of queer films it’s emerged from. Finally, the genre is giving us a break from its star-crossed, po-faced lovers! Although Eddie and Amber each experiment with romance, this always plays second fiddle to the sensitive focus on the two as individuals, and the platonic friendship which gives them new hope.

This re-orientation away from romance is necessary on so many levels. In real life, it is typical for people to recognise their sexuality well before they feel ready for a relationship. It’s a process, which isn’t always represented on-screen with this much nuance. It’s also a common trope for films to depict a same-sex couple as the only gay people in school, the city, and possibly the world. Dating Amber manages to bypass this pitfall as well, with at least four characters who are explicitly queer. Perhaps most importantly of all, its spotlight on individual, familial, and platonic development reemphasises that there’s more to LGBT people than the simple fact that they are LGBT. Romantic encounters in Dating Amber are practically incidental, as Eddie and Amber’s sweet and turbulent friendship highlights the heady joy to be found in platonic love.

Perhaps most importantly of all, its spotlight on individual, familial, and platonic development reemphasises that there’s more to LGBT people than the simple fact that they are LGBT. 

Perhaps because of this lack of forbidden romance, Dating Amber has the depth to be both genuinely funny and painfully realistic. Within the first five minutes I was already giggling, and there’s a gem of a scene three-quarters of the way through with a ridiculously useless sex-ed video. Other times, it felt like the film was speaking to me directly. As children, almost every queer girl I know made up a host of sad, pretend crushes on boys who coincidentally “lived somewhere else”. My first gay bar was scattered with two dozen people decades older and much more confident than I was: Amber and Eddie’s giddy, awkward anticipation is like looking in a mirror at my past.


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Tilda Butterworth and Alex Jarvis reflect on the representation of LGBTQ+ groups in film.

This isn’t to say that Dating Amber is free of every trapping of the genre. A little too often, it earnestly plays into the most persistent of stereotypes: Eddie (gay) is so unsuited to manly activity that he struggles to do a single pull-up; Amber (lesbian) is loudly revolutionary, ‘mannish’, and urged to look more feminine. At one point, Eddie’s most ardent desire appears to be the tender embrace of an unknown drag queen, whilst his mum’s big discovery of his sexuality comes when prying through his notebook of penis drawings. Really, judging from my secondary school experience, I don’t think teenage boys have to be gay to doodle dicks all over everything.

Towards the movie’s bittersweet end, the realism wavers still further. For the sake of a happy ending, Eddie chooses to leave everything behind- including his audience, who are left to glumly ponder just how likely this choice would have been in real life. My girlfriend and I were left in tears not because of the movie’s ending, but because of what the movie’s ending should have been. Embracing yourself at the cost of family, friends, and future career seems a terrifying, valiant thing. It isn’t easy to press delete on the version of yourself that everyone else prefers to believe in.

When it comes down to it, though, I can’t fault the ending’s optimism with a clear conscience. The doom and gloom of queer cinema is a relentless breed of bleak propaganda; I wouldn’t blame someone for imagining that every real-life LGBT person ends up unhappy too. Maybe, with more movies like this one, that deluge is finally – finally – beginning to drain away. Dating Amber is a poignant film, with an ending symptomatic of a more hopeful queer narrative. And honestly? It’s about time.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Tilda Butterworth and Alex Jarvis reflect on the representation of LGBTQ+ groups in film.