'Of An Age' - a freewheeling sensual, wistful romantic odyssey

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday February 14, 2023
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Hattie Hook, Thom Green and Elias Anton in 'Of an Age'
Hattie Hook, Thom Green and Elias Anton in 'Of an Age'

The struggle to find out who you are and accept who you are is a staple of LGBTQ films, with the coming out/coming of age couplet a frequent theme. But every once in a while, a movie arrives that gives this clichéd pairing a fresh cathartic twist and the new Australian dramedy "Of An Age" by Macedonian-born, Melbourne-raised writer/director/editor Goran Stolevski, is that happy exception.

With the poster tagline, "All We Have Is Now," as audiences will discover 'Now' is more than enough and rarely has seemed so edgy, romantic, or soul-expanding. And perhaps we can all relate when there's one profound day, a mind-blowing 24 hours, coupled with the pangs of first love, that permanently changes our lives.

It's Summer 1999 in blue-collar North Melbourne. Awkward loner Serbian-born 18-year-old Kol (Elias Anton) is rehearsing his rhumba dance in the family garage on the day of the Year 12 Ballroom Finals competition. He receives a frantic panic call from his frenzied dance partner Ebony (newcomer Hattie Hook) stranded and hung over on an unknown beach to the west of the city. She needs to be picked up along with her sequined gown within an hour to make it to the finals in time.

Kol, in his gaudy blue outfit, jumps into her elder brother Adam's (Thom Green) car, as they race to pick up Ebony. Kol is in a surly mood, but charming, sarcastic Adam discovers he's articulate and engaging, so they can talk about both having read Kafka and Borges, as well as their favorite films, getting acquainted in real time. Kol learns Adam will be leaving tomorrow to travel to Buenos Aires to start his linguistics doctorate.

Adam also casually mentions he's gay while sizing up Kol in longing stares, which initially mortifies Kol. But adorable nervous glances towards Adam awaken his sexuality and pique his interest. They find a sulky Ebony but miss the dance contest.

Later, Kol will meet up with Adam at a suburban party, along with some xenophobic girls, leading to a dreamy night drive orbiting Melbourne, as they circle closely around each other emotionally, climaxing in an intimate sexual encounter. Adam drops Kol off at dawn with a devastated Kol forced to say adieu after an all-consuming passion. "Have a safe and cool Ph.D."

It's now 2010 with Ebony's wedding bringing Adam, happily married to a man and living in Canada, and self-assured gay but still pining for Kol back to Melbourne, for a bittersweet fateful reunion. Both men must confront the feelings that were unleashed that profound day a decade ago. Is there the same intensity as they now reconnect? Is there any future for them either as lovers or friends?

Thom Green and Elias Anton in 'Of an Age'  

Singular charms
At first glance, the film promises to be a gay version of the 1992 Australian rom-com "Strictly Ballroom" about a straight couple trying to win a dance championship, one of director Baz Luhrmann's early successful efforts. However, there is virtually no dancing in "Age" except a brief two-minute rhumba toward the end of the film.

"Age's" real pedigree is Andrew Haigh's now classic "Weekend" (2011) about two guys who meet at a gay club for a hook up which extends to two days before one of them has to leave the country to attend a two-year art course. Truthfully, "Age" is not as exceptional as either of those two films, though it possesses its own singular charms.

Stolevski has incorporated some of his own memories of growing up as a queer teen into the film, beautifully paralleling the frenetic pace to reach the dance finals in time with the sexual tension of whether a brief romantic encounter will ensue between Kol and Adam. There's also a contrast between Kol, who's wounded and wrestling with his identity, versus the self-assured, confident Adam and his sexual swagger.

Stolevski's keen to profile Kol as an outsider both because he's gay but also due to his Serbian heritage, with Stolevski providing sly commentary (without scolding) on the casual racism experienced in this dull, homophobic suburbia, especially from his mean uncle who wants him to play soccer to become more manly rather than dance.

The dialogue is natural-sounding with silence and nonverbal cues conveying complexity that are just as powerful and revealing as what's expressed in words.

The film succeeds based on the electric, palpable chemistry between the two characters, despite their coming from two different worlds. We don't know if the two actors are gay, though both have played LGBTQ roles previously. Regardless, they are totally believable projecting a tantalizing erotic spark that transfixes viewers.

The captivating kinetic camera work juxtaposes the tense claustrophobia and suffocation of filming inside a small car, with bodily movements that express desire trying to escape the physical but also the social confines.

"Of An Age" is a freewheeling sensual, wistful romantic odyssey that is simultaneously uplifting yet heartbreaking to the point of sorrowful, but still expresses the disquieting wonder of queer yearning.

Stolevski is shooting a new film "Housekeeping for Beginners" about a lesbian in modern North Macedonia whose partner dies and she's forced to raise the two children she left behind with little desire to be a mother. With "Age," his auspicious sophomore effort, we can't wait to see his next movie as the fulfillment of a burgeoning talent.

'Of an Age' opens in US cinemas February 17.

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