Dating Amber (4 stars)

Dating Amber

Enjoyable Irish coming-of-age comedy, featuring Sharon Horgan and Barry Ward

Ireland has served up some excellent cinema over recent months, including such eclectic titles as horror Sea Fever, comedies Extra Ordinary and the Northern Irish effort A Bump Along the Way, as well as upcoming drama Rose Plays Julie. Taking its place among them is Dating Amber, the accomplished second feature from writer-director David Freyne. Freyne takes a rather different tack from his intriguing 2017 zombie-apocalypse debut The Cured (also set in Ireland), here focusing on a young couple in the mid-90s as they deal with the highs and lows of adolescent life.

This is no traditional teen romcom, however. Both Eddie (Fionn O'Shea, Normal People) and Amber (Lola Petticrew, A Bump Along the Way) are gay, but reluctant to come out to their families or peers for fear of being completely ostracised. In an attempt to provide some cover, they pretend to be a couple; it's an arrangement that initially works well until Amber begins to realise that she can no longer live a lie and Eddie is driven further into the closet.

This set-up, and the setting, provide plenty of opportunities for humour, and Freyne's script neatly mines the fashions, music and attitudes of the time with minimal use of cliche. He's helped by stars O'Shea and Petticrew, who share genuine chemistry as two totally lost souls who have finally found a port in a storm. Elsewhere, Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) and Barry Ward (Extra Ordinary) are fantastic as Eddie's parents, themselves struggling in an unhappy marriage at a time when divorce was still against the law. (The film takes place against the backdrop of the1995 Irish Divorce Referendum, which their youngest son is blithely campaigning against.)

And that expert balance of the comic and the political is Dating Amber's masterstroke. Freyne takes care to highlight the suffocating religious and social indoctrination that effectively shackled anyone who didn't conform, from the slurs of classmates to the educational videos espousing the sin of homosexuality, while maintaining an essential lightness of touch. It all makes for a bittersweet coming-of-age tale which punches well above its weight.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Thu 4 Jun.

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