Inside Out Film Festival 2020
In Dating Amber, the year is 1995. The county is Ireland. Arguments rage about whether Oasis are better than Blur. It’s not the kind of place you want to be gay. For Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), who have no interest whatsoever in the opposite sex, life is a living hell. In an early scene, Eddie is forced to go for a “shift” (make out session) with one of his classmates. When he doesn’t feel her breasts, he’s relentlessly mocked by both boys and girls alike. Likewise, Amber is endlessly called a “lezzer” whenever she opens her mouth. But she has an ingenious idea to get them off their backs: she and Eddie will pretend to date each other!
Using the template of the romcom to explore queer identity and the power of cross-gender solidarity, Dating Amber is a delightful and sweet film. Unafraid to delve into schmaltz when needed, this is the kind of sentimental queer coming-of-age story Ireland has been crying out for.
Fionn O’Shea delivers a great portrait of the messiness of growing up gay, endlessly torn between fulfilling his father’s desire to join the army and his burgeoning attraction to his maths teacher. Lola Petticrew is equally fine; her story doesn’t simply duplicate Eddie’s journey but charts a far different path stressing the complexity of the queer experience.
While Dating Amber is unafraid to show the difficulties of being gay in such a time and place, it doesn’t give in to despair, showing that no matter how bad your teenage years might be, there are refuges — such as in Dublin and London — where you can finally live authentically. This is cinema as defiance of the heterosexual system; a story of hope and love that celebrates the miracle of truly finding yourself.
Meanwhile, a washed-up movie star is forced to confront his true self in web series I Am Syd Stone, a Canada-set drama that boasts a fine central performance by Travis Nelson. Tackling the stigma of being gay within the highly publicized world of Hollywood, it is a heartfelt exploration of living authentically while under intense scrutiny.
Syd Stone used to be a huge star, catapulted to fame by his performance in a franchise film series called Dino Danger. Now with quality roles drying up, he’s reduced to playing in a b-movie. This is a a low-quality shoot. Syd plays a soccer coach trying to bring the best out of a young boy. The dialogue is intentionally cheesy, filled with feel-good quotes that wouldn’t wash on a proper Hollywood film.
Sitting in the hotel bar after a long shift, he strikes up a conversation with a defense attorney named Matt (Benjamin Charles Watson). Focused intensely on his career, Matt has no idea who Syd is. This gives Syd the chance to reinvent himself as his real self: someone yearning for human connection with another member of the same sex. Eventually, he must confront who he really is, clashing with his girlfriend, agent, and other crew members in the process.
While the ending feels a bit too pat, and could be criticized for the same clichés that plagued the film within the show, this is a mostly effective exploration of what it means to live authentically in a world where you’re so used to acting the complete opposite, even to yourself. It also serves as a reminder that despite the progress made in the film industry over the past years, there’s still a mighty long way to go yet.
Both films play at Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto, running between 1-11 October. Learn more here.