The simple yet effective title “Of an Age” plays a few tricks with its double entendre; the peppy romance about a young queer man’s first brush with love captures a certain glowing youthful nostalgia. But it’s also a story split across two decades, essentially bifurcated in two recent but now solidly bygone eras. The film opens in 1999, though the boxy cars harken even further back, and ends in 2010, performing some impressive movie magic to make the actors look age-appropriate. That the entire thing is set in Melbourne, Australia, adds another layer of distance to the whole affair, coating it in a kind of dewy faraway melodrama.
While “Of an Age” leans a little heavily toward sentimentality at times, a sharp wit and a few wild shifts in tone keep things afloat. It’s the kind of queer romance suspended in time that will have everyone in their feels, on par with “Weekend” and “Call Me By Your Name.” As writer/director on his second feature, the Macedonian-born, Austalian-raised filmmaker Goran Stolevski firmly plants his flag in the romance genre with an offbeat playfulness all his own.
In its first impish bit of misdirection, “Of an Age” starts with a girl in need of saving. Not your average gay film opening, but the risk pays off for an energetic opening scene that brilliantly shifts from high-speed chase to high-stakes meet-cute. Hearts are aflutter as high schooler Kol (Elias Anton) finds himself in a frenzy when his dance partner Ebony (Hattie Hook) wakes up stranded near a beach after blacking out. In a mad dash not to miss the big competition, he rushes to pick up her red-fringed gown (he sports a black rhinestone unitard) hitches a ride with her brother — the only non-parent they know with a car.
Pulling up in a boxy mustard brown unit and sporting a tasteful goatee is the lithe and twinkle-eyed Adam (Thom Green), who immediately has Kol both on edge and at ease. A few years older and already out of “uni,” Adam is the first adult to take an interest in Kol, and the shy younger man blossoms under his gentle gaze. The chaotic tension of the opening slowly gives way to a leisurely road trip comfort, as the two build an easy rapport over talk of literature, music, and family. Eager to impress his handsome academic friend, Kol drops references to Kafka, Dickens, and Borges (Adam playfully corrects Kol when he pronounces the latter “Borgies”).
Stahelski peppers their dialogue with film references, including playing the soundtrack to “Happy Together” on cassette, and a cheeky reference to “Strangers on a Train” when Kol says he wishes someone would kill his uncle. Though the filmmaker gives Adam’s ex-boyfriend his name, even including a little rib about Goran’s, it’s obvious that Kol is Stolevski’s stand-in, with his traditional Balkan family and outsider status as an immigrant to Australia. Throughout the languorous car ride, the young men steal sidelong glances at each other, searching eyes flashing brightly in the rearview — the recital now firmly in the rearview as well.
Once the story lands firmly on the two of them, the rest of the film floats by in a haze of summery eroticism. A will-they-or-won’t-they intrigue builds as the younger Kol insists he isn’t gay or anything like that, even asking if Tori Amos is “one of those gay singers like Barbra Streisand.” In perhaps the most important lesson imparted in the whole film, Adam replies, “Tori Amos is definitely not like Barbra Streisand.” The humor adds a pleasant light air to the unspoken heaviness underneath, felt mostly by the lingering glances and weighty emotions conveyed beautifully by the two actors.
When they finally return home, sister in tow, Adam offers Kol a change of clothes. They sit pensively on beds in adjacent bedrooms, acutely aware of the overwhelming presence on the other side of the wall. A series of fumbled and longing goodbyes always lead them back to one another, and Stolevski proves a master of the sharp turns and sweet releases of his snappy opening.
Cinematographer Matthew Chuang captures both tender and playful moments with a confident handheld intimacy. He also has an eye for saturated vintage colors, bathing a party scene in unsettling greens and lingering on the yellow stained glass windows in Adam’s house. If the cultural references point to a certain era, the muted colors and wood-paneled sets lend to its nostalgic sheen. The design is never so specific, however, to bar someone from projecting their own first love memories onto the hazy glow. Like its poetic title, “Of an Age” captures a timeless feeling, one that spans across decades and experiences, and leaves an indelible imprint.
Focus Features will release “Of an Age” in theaters on Friday, February 17.
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