Heartfelt Of an Age is a Moving Melodrama of Self-Exploration
It is the summer of 1999, and 17-year-old Serbian immigrant Kol (Elias Anton) is not having a good morning. His best friend and dancing partner Ebony (Hattie Hook) went wild the prior evening and woke up on a beach over an hour outside of Melbourne without her purse, money, or any identification. Making matters worse, today are the Australian Dance Finals, and they are supposed to be performing. It’s an impossible situation, and Kol is frantically trying to come up with a solution to their seemingly insurmountable problem.
Ebony has an idea. Kol needs to find her older brother, Adam (Thom Green) and convince him to pick her up and then take them both to the dance finals. Even if he agrees, there’s still little chance they’ll make it. But at least they can say they tried, and that’s something.
Of an Age is writer-director Goran Stolevski’s striking, quietly personal follow-up to his masterful debut, You Won’t Be Alone. While that film was a passionately feminist thriller revolving around a shape-shifting witch who learns about humanity by taking on the skins of those she kills (both intentionally and accidentally), this new drama is an exceedingly grounded coming-of-age tale about a young man confronting his internalized homophobia.
Yet both motion pictures are intimately connected. They are each, at their core, about identity. They are about the search for self and have a shared fascination with what it means to be human. Stolevski asks penetrating questions and frequently lets the audience determine the answers on their own. How a person solves these impenetrable mysteries is personal to them and to them alone, and I cannot help but believe that is entirely by design.
Granted, Of an Age is a far more straightforward and comfortably conventional motion picture than its ethereally esoteric predecessor. Kol is a teenager living in a staid, conservative community who is afraid to accept he is Gay and would rather live a lie than come out of the closet. This day, much of it spent in a car with Adam, transforms all of that. There’s not a lot more to it.
Don’t let this narrative simplicity fool you, though. Stolevski crafts multidimensional characters who are vibrantly alive, and Kol and Adam’s conversations have a concrete authenticity that’s irresistible. Almost the first third of the picture revolves around the two young men sitting in a car learning about one another. Hopes. Dreams. Plans for the future. Family lives. Relationships with parents. It’s all there. More importantly, it’s all real.
The kicker is the moment Adam casually reveals he’s Gay. In lesser hands, Kol’s reaction could be construed as melodramatically exploitive. In Stolevski’s, it is anything but. Kol’s sudden, violent bout of nausea is born from a place of deep uncertainty and a refusal to admit long-held truths he’s wanted to keep concealed. But Adam inadvertently puts a mirror in front of his road-trip companion, and what happens next catches both by surprise. By the time they reach Ebony, it’s clear everything they thought they knew about their futures has irrevocably changed.
Anton and Green are outstanding, and their chemistry is infectious. Good thing, too, because with so much of the film showcasing just the two of them in a confined space chatting and not a heck of a lot more than that, had either not been up to the challenge, Stolevski’s sophomore outing would have crumbled into teeny-tiny pieces. But the pair play off one another beautifully, and much like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, the heat Anton and Green generate could power multiple stories, assuming the director wanted to see where Kol and Adam’s travels might take them as they get older.
Speaking of time jumps, the last third does move forward roughly a full decade and is set at Ebony’s wedding. What’s happening with Kol and Adam, where they are at in their lives, and whether or not they’ve been conversing aren’t items I want to get into here. I will say this section of the film does not work nearly as well as the pieces before it do, and it took me a moment to embrace the differences in each character, as they were rather drastic.
But, like everything else in Stolevski’s drama, they are also honest, and this helped quiet my unease. This climactic section doesn’t necessarily resolve Of an Age as it opens up new avenues of exploration that captured my imagination and filled my heart with cathartic joy. Gay. Straight. Trans. Bi. Everyone walks down their own path, and Kol isn’t any different. He isn’t the same insecure, jittery, juvenile I met when the film began, and that’s exactly as it should be.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)