What’s this? Another teen original movie from an online streaming service? I know, I know. Have I learnt nothing from last week? You’d think that I’d had my feel of stupid teenagers thanks to Work It and Save the Last Dance but apparently not. I’ll be honest though, I picked this because of it’s runtime. My weekend was a bit hectic and I needed something I could breeze through in less than 2 hours. Although, I felt as though this also had a bit more going for it than Netflix’s offering. The LGBTQ+ centred story brought a new twist on the teen romance and I always think that things get less stereotypical when you take them out of Hollywood. Dating Amber didn’t sound like it was going to be groundbreaking but I was happy to believe that it would be cuter than your average romantic comedy.
Even though we like to think we live in a more enlightened age, it still isn’t always easy growing up as a gay person. It’s still illegal to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in 70 countries and you could be killed for it in 12. That’s insane. Even in countries where it isn’t against the law, there is still plenty of stigma surrounding being gay. This is mainly in religious communities. I’ve never really understood the concept of good Christian people fighting against gay people. What about “do unto others” and all that? Dating Amber takes us back to the 90s and a rural town in Ireland. It is a community that is not only religious but has a proud military history.
As such, there are some very strict ideas about what it means to be a man. Something that Eddie regularly struggles with. His father is an army man and there is an expectation that Eddie will follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, Eddie isn’t traditionally masculine and, worse than that, he’s hiding his sexuality. While his friends are “shifting” with the girls in their class, Eddie is secretly harbouring a crush on his maths teacher. He knows that he needs to do something if he wants to stay in the closet, which is where Amber comes in.
Amber is also hiding a secret. She’s a lesbian and has been teased by her fellow students for years. Wanting to get through the rest of her schooldays in peace, Amber approaches Eddie with a suggestion. They act as each other’s beards to keep the heat off. Though it starts off awkwardly, the pair form a strong friendship. When Amber starts to become more comfortable with embracing who she is, Eddie retreats even further into himself. Will his overbearing father and fear of coming out, ruin the one positive relationship in his life?
The greatest thing about this film is the way it handles the premise. It is funny but it deals with everything sensitively. Amber and Eddie’s stories play out as counterpoints to show that not all coming-out stories are the same. Not everyone has an easy time accepting who they are and not every parent would be as comfortable welcoming the news. The film understands the struggle for young gay people but also offers hope. It’s well-done and I was pleased that it didn’t fallback on any tired stereotypes.
It also does a great job of turning romantic comedy cliches on their head. The montages of Amber and Eddie getting to know each other have the tone of every falling in love montage we’ve ever seen. However, this a film that celebrates platonic love. The pair have an uneasy start to the friendship but they bond over their shared struggles. You can’t help but love them. Something that is helped by a sharp script and the two leads putting in great performances. I can’t say that this innovation carries all the way through and there are plenty of cliched moments that could have been lifted from a sitcom but the focus here is where it should be. On the two teenagers and their personal demons.
Dating Amber is much better than films like this normally are but I did wish it went a bit further in certain areas. The subplots just don’t really go anywhere and feel underdeveloped. The film isn’t exactly long either, so there was plenty of room to add more. The story line surrounding Eddie’s parents and younger brother deserved more time and I think there was further to go with Amber’s dad’s suicide. But maybe I’m just greedy? In the end, this is a film that does a good job. It works against the unrealistic and lifeless Hollywood idea of teen romance that we see in films like Call Me By Your Name and portrays something more familiar and engaging. Instead it evokes Richard Ayoade’s Submarine and embraces it’s awkward realistic side.