The Australian drama “Of an Age” exists in a wistful world of impossibility: That ethereal space where you meet someone wonderful and wonder what might be, but cannot be, for whatever reason.
With his second feature film, writer/director Goran Stolevski tells a story that shares some similarities with other fleeting, gay romances—namely the excellent “Weekend” and “Call Me by Your Name”—in that they provide a glimpse of a quick and unusually transformative connection. But personal touches abound: One of the characters has an ex-boyfriend named Goran who, like the filmmaker, is Macedonian.
But while “Of an Age” offers plenty of moody, melancholy atmosphere, it lacks the kind of characterization that would make this story truly devastating. Viewers who’ve experienced this sort of ephemeral affair themselves might find it more absorbing; others, however, might find it unconvincing.
“Of an Age” begins in a way that’s meant to throw us off-kilter, though, as it focuses on a teenage girl named Ebony (Hattie Hook) who wakes up alone at dawn, on a beach, hungover. The year is 1999, so she can’t determine her location by smartphone (the setting in time is key to providing the story with some mystery, especially as it jumps ahead in its second chapter). Staggering to a pay phone, she calls the one person she knows will help her without judgment: Kol (Elias Anton), her ballroom dance partner.
The 17-year-old is a good-hearted and supremely patient Serbian immigrant. He’s also gay, but apparently not out, even to himself. Making him a competitive ballroom dancer feels like a bit of an afterthought, and an excuse for the awkward humor of having him run through the streets of suburban Melbourne in a sparkly, plunging costume. Why does this activity matter to him, so much that he’s panicking about potentially missing the finals because his partner is a flaky party girl? It’s a characteristic that feels tacked on and barely explored further.
Kol’s mission is to seek out Ebony’s brother, Adam (Thom Green), who has a car and can help him pick her up. And so the two guys have an extended meet-cute during an hour-long road trip. Adam is several years older and more comfortable in his skin as a gay man, which allows him to see something he recognizes in Kol. Stolevski, also serving as editor, creates a gentle, building tension as the two chat, tease, and prod each other. These extremely different characters share some sweet and amusing moments as they test each other, trying to impress one another with the books they’ve read and the movies they’ve seen. Working with cinematographer Matthew Chuang, Stolevski quietly and intimately observes every sideways glance, every hushed moment of repressed longing. The gauziness of the images suggests these two figures are suspended in time rather than racing against the clock.
When Adam reveals casually that he’s gay, it sends a shockwave through Kol, touching something deep inside that he’s not prepared to acknowledge himself. You can almost see the light bulb go on over Kol’s head, but he’s not quite ready to bask in its radiance. But who are these people? Adam has a quick wit and a dry sense of humor; Kol is jittery, and a little nerdy but can hold his own. They bond over the score to Wong Kar-Wai’s 1997 gay love story “Happy Together.” But ultimately, these characters are ideas that are insubstantially developed.
As a plot contrivance, Adam is about to leave the country the next day to pursue his Ph.D. in Argentina (the setting of “Happy Together,” as it turns out). But why does Adam want to study abroad, other than the fact that the story needs a deadline? We mostly know who he is and what matters to him based on his relationships with other people: His sister, his ex-boyfriend, and now this new and unlikely love interest.
Still, the two lead actors have a pleasing chemistry, even if the depth of their desire isn’t always plausible. This is especially true in the film’s final segment, when Anton exudes a swagger that suggests his character’s self-acceptance over the passage of time. Whether Kol and Adam can ever be happy together, though, is something else entirely.