Movie Review ~ Dating Amber


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A closeted gay teen and his lesbian counterpart pretend to be a couple to avoid suspicion.

Stars: Fionn O’Shea, Lola Petticrew, Barry Ward, Sharon Horgan, Simone Kirby, Lauryn Canny, Emma Willis

Director: David Freyne

Rated: NR

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Whether we like it or not, those that lay out their opinions on film for all the world to read are bound to be caught in a fickle situation or two.  I’m as guilty as the next person of loving the easy-breezy romantic comedies that don’t ask too much of the viewer just as much as I crave those brainless action blockbusters that are made for chomping popcorn.  These movies are easy to identify (and, thus, write-off if you so choose) but it’s similar-themed fare that often can bear the burden of more harsh scrutiny.  Films such as these may seem rather conventional but look carefully and you can spot an aspiration that wasn’t met that needs to be called out.

Sadly, one of the newest examples of this is the import Irish comedy Dating Amber.  Here’s one that checked all the boxes on my list for a charming weekend watch but wound up being a disappointing rehash of ideas already brought to the screen.  I’m always onboard for a comedy that goes against the norm and defies expectations, so when I plunk down in front of one that is earnest as all get out and, it must be said, made with the most noble of intentions, I still have to give it its fair shake.  Despite an appealing cast and subject matter that usually gets short shrift in the romantic realm, writer/director David Freyne opts for the obvious when a surprise or two will do and ends up with the five words no LGBTQ film wants to be classified as: Just Another Ordinary Gay Movie.

The oldest child of a military man (Barry Ward, Extra Ordinary) and a stay-at-home mom (Sharon Horgan, Game Night), Eddie (Fionn O’Shea, The Aftermath) is doing everything he can to repress his gay feelings that are becoming too big to ignore.  His friends egg him on to an embarrassing encounter with the loosest girl in their Irish countryside school, an experience that backfires on him and only puts a larger spotlight on his lack of interest in the opposite sex.  Watching all of this unfold is Amber (Lola Petticrew), a popular target for the boys in her class to make crass jokes about and to be harassed by the girls for her supposed lesbian leanings.  Living in a trailer park with her mom after her dad committed suicide, she’s saving up money to head to London by renting one of the empty trailers on her property by the hour to any of her horny classmates that have the cash.

Tired of being bullied and trusting her gut, Amber approaches Eddie and makes him a proposition.  Since they’re both gay (though he claims he’s not), why don’t they pretend to date.  That will squash the daily taunting at school and help them get through the final months before they can truly begin to live their best lives.  Under the guise of doing it to help her, Eddie agrees and the two start their faux relationship which burgeons into just the kind of platonic friendship both had been needing.  Though their romantic lives still need some help, they find some semblance of normalcy in the partnership of another person that understands how the other feels.  However, the more Amber uses this safe space to learn to be happy with accepting her sexuality, the less Eddie follows suit, leading to an emotional rift that threatens their ideal arrangement.

Countless high school films over the years have dealt with these secret relationship/friendship machinations and we all know where they’re heading.  That Dating Amber follows such a standard trajectory while only occasionally setting a pinky toe into new territory is a bummer because there’s some rich emotional soil that could be uncovered here.  Instead, Freyne gives us another school filled with teens that are obnoxious homophobic horndogs and at least one parent that feels like they’ve been waiting their whole life to have a gay child and has had their “I accept you” speech well-rehearsed.  It’s inevitable the teens will have some sort of heated confrontation in a school hallway and the parent will get a late-night teary moment to offer their support…we’re just checking our watches for when it will occur.  It should be said that not enough films go into the relationship between gay men and women with as much mirth.  Wisely, Freyne makes these showcase moments meaning they are memorable but infrequent.

Perhaps Freyne just has too much going on that took away from the people we were here to see.  The story is about the evolution of both Eddie and Amber getting to a new level of love for themselves, but some side story always seems to be getting in the way.  Horgan and Ward are strong actors but the fact their marriage was in shambles had little to do with their son and seemed like a plot thread dropped from Horgan’s Military Wives from earlier this year.  Exploring Amber’s home life tied in a bit more, but lack of development of this area kept it from resonating, which is a shame because Petticrew and Simone Kirby (The Shadow of Violence) as her mother had some good interplay.  I’ve really enjoyed O’Shea in Hulu’s Normal People (where he played a real a-hole) as well as Handsome Devil (a much better LGBTQ pic showing a less typical coming-out story) but here his bundle of nerves got old quickly.   Also, it got aggravating that Eddie’s given so many passes for his poor behavior and violent outbursts without paying much of a realistic price that I began to care less about his ultimate journey.

Originally titled Beards, Dating Amber should have been better than it is considering the scope of possibilities open to the filmmakers.  The entire film I had the nagging feeling like I’d seen this all before.  It wasn’t that it’s an exact carbon copy of other, better, films, it’s that almost all of its choices are so textbook that you could choose any high school romantic comedy (gay or straight) off the shelf and find the same characters.  I’m glad movies like this are getting made and hope they continue to arrive with regularity…I just hope they aren’t so, you know, regular.

Movie Review ~ Extra Ordinary


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Though an Irish driving instructor has a love-hate relationship with her supernatural abilities, she decides to help a local man and his possessed daughter.

Stars: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte, Claudia O’Doherty, Jamie Beaming, Terri Chandler, Risteard Cooper, Emma Coleman, Carrie Crowley, Mary McEvoy

Director: Mike Ahern & Edna Loughman

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Here’s one of those “bad” problems to have if you’re a movie critic…try not to roll your eyes. Sometimes, I have offers to watch so many screeners that I don’t know which one to choose and I wind up going simply on the logline or the poster – whichever catches my attention first. Then I line them up by release date and start knocking them out, hoping I’ve chosen titles that won’t be eye-rollers like the horror film about a priest that turned into a dinosaur (The VelociPastor) or the latest in a line of rural crime dramas (Inherit the Viper and Disturbing the Peace). At the back of my mind, I’m always waiting for the true diamond in the rough.

It took me a while and even though I’ve been fortunate to see an amazing amount of good movies from the comfort of my home I was so pleased to find Extra Ordinary exceeded all expectations. Here’s a movie that has a description that sounds like a lot of fun, boasts a poster that looks like a wacky ride, produced a trailer that didn’t give all the laughs or twists away, and winds up being one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen so far in 2020. Mixing genres is tough with any combination but comedy and horror is, surprisingly, often the most difficult. The team involved in front of and behind the scenes for Extra Ordinary know what they’re doing and they’ve not only turned out a wholly satisfying blend of gory horror and laugh out loud comedy but they’ve likely created a small cult classic at the same time.

The daughter of a famous paranormal psychiatrist who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, Rose (Maeve Higgins, who also co-wrote the film) is a driving-instructor that enjoys her peaceful life in the Irish countryside. With her love-life non-existent, she hangs out with her pregnant sister (Terri Chandler) and dodges gossip hounds looking for information on her dad and also requesting her services. Seems that while her dad investigated unexplained occurrences, Rose actually has supernatural abilities that manifest themselves in different ways. She can talk to spirits and other objects, which is great for those that want her help but bad for Rose who thinks that her “gift” killed her father.  Meanwhile, making a pact with a demon to resurrect his career is one-hit wonder rock musician Christian Winter (Will Forte, Nebraska) and he’s looking to sacrifice a virgin. When he takes Sarah (Emma Coleman), her father Martin (Barry Ward) enlists Rose’s help in saving his daughter and stopping Christian from bringing forth an evil that wants to do a hell of a lot more than assure success for its minion. Racing against time, Rose must face her childhood fears and put aside her burgeoning feelings for Martin if she’s to save Sarah and herself from certain hell.

If you’re reading this you’d think by now it was some new Blumhouse horror movie but the writers and directors have delivered it all with tongue firmly in cheek and a never ending barrage of one-liners and visual gags that work almost exclusively to its advantage. Truth be told, there were so many asides and small touches that I thought I’d have to watch the movie again in order to catch everything before writing this review.  I’ve seen many compare the movie to Ghosbusters and I can see where that may tie in (those that were grossed out by Slimer in that ’80s movie should brace themselves for a host of icky phlegm appearances here) but I’d liken this movie more to Peter Jackson’s underrated horror comedy The Frighterners or Housebound, mostly because the humor seems in better alignment.  Many movies start out with a bang but can’t maintain that energy or interest but the wonderful thing about Extra Ordinary is that it just gets better, funnier, and more engaging as it goes along.

That’s due in no small part to the enormous charm of Higgins leading the cast of talented players that all fit their roles to perfection. I wasn’t familiar with Higgins before this but I hope to see more of her and I’m betting more people will take notice after this. The way she presents Rose as so relatable without making her some sad-sack or the butt of jokes (an early scene in her kitchen where she eats a microwave meal in nothing but control top pantyhose deserves some kind of Not Giving Zero F***s Award) is exactly the right approach. As the straight man to Rose, Ward supports Higgins well as does Forte who resists the urge to go fully over the top and make the movie more about him than anything else. He tends to push too much at times (as many former SNL players do) but when he gets it right the role hums perfectly.

Likely to be a movie you’ll hear about a lot before you actually see it, make some extra time in your schedule for Extra Ordinary. Sure, you may not be a horror fan or the target audience for this type of film but Higgins and company may convince you otherwise and coax you to their side with their charming whip of frights and fun.