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Of an Age 2023 Movie Review
Set in the summer of 1999, an 18-year-old Serbian-born, Australian amateur ballroom dancer experiences an unexpected and intense 24-hour romance with a friend’s older brother.
Before taking us back to Australia in 1999, writer/director Goran Stolevski’s Of an Age opens up relatively in the present day where Kol (Elias Anton) stands outside his vehicle covered in twilight cinematography, overlooking the rest of the city, giving into complicated desires to phone his old friend Ebony (Hattie Hook). Kol is dialing the numbers while teary-eyed to such a degree that we wonder if something bad happened to her or between them. Ebony’s mom answers and is surprised by the call, subsequently causing the films to shift back in time, an era and experience from which the filmmaker seems to be pulling personally.
There, on an early summer morning (which is close to Christmas time in Australia), Ebony awakes on a beach, shocked and panicking because her night out drinking with boys on one of their father’s boats went south, and she is a far cry away from the dance hall where she is supposed to be performing in the Australian finals in a few hours. After pleading with a stranger for some change to use the phone booth, she calls her dance partner Kol, divulging the bad news that unless he drives out of his way to pick her up, there is no way they’re going to be able to perform the competition.
Dumbfounded and stressed, they concoct a plan that involves Ebony’s slightly older and graduated gay brother Adam (Thom Green) to retrieve her and misdirect their parents from her misadventures.
Doubling back a minute, Kol is introduced while practicing one of his dance routines, set to some classical music, where his younger brother barges in with Ebony’s phone call. While immersing us in the times and telling him to handle the call quickly so he can get back to using the dial-up Internet, it’s also implied that he looks down on Kol’s hobby. Throughout the movie, other girls assume he is gay, while some are much harsher and xenophobic, taking issue with his Serbian heritage. These same people are also critical of Adam, citing that he has no life, whereas some went much further and voted him “most likely to blow up the school” in the yearbook.
Once Kol and Adam become situated in the car, Goran Stolevski lets the camera roll as they practically get to know each other in real-time, making this arduous drive to pick up Ebony. They organically come across common interests, all while it becomes apparent that Kol might actually be gay and garnering some romantic interest in Adam. Somehow, this car ride full of extended dialogue is never boring, welcoming us to both characters and hoping that something does develop.
When Ebony is picked up, she continues to exert unlikable behavior. She doesn’t care that they missed the dance competition finals, which was important to Kol, and repeatedly shows herself as self-centered due to a wake-up call.
Of an Age doesn’t only beautifully depict a sexual awakening but also the beginning stages of letting contact slip away from tight-knit high school friends since, as time moves forward, people change, or in some cases, they don’t change and evolve. The longer the film goes on, the question goes from “does something tragic happen to Ebony here” to “why would he ever want to talk to this person again in the future.”
Ebony also shows some xenophobic behavior found in other guests at the party they end up at, specifying that she’s looking to hook up with a white person. Meanwhile, a gravitational pull between Kol and Adam becomes stronger, even though the latter is headed off to study linguistics in another country.
This is a seemingly painfully accurate exploration of growing up as a gay immigrant in a somewhat unwelcoming part of Australia (even Kol’s family rudely insists he be more manly and watch soccer) while formative love blossoms. By the time Goran Stolevski flashes back to the present day, there’s not much left in the film, and it shows greatly since portions of it feel rushed and poorly conceived. However, it does take some of those seeds planted in 1999, offering numerous payoffs regarding aging, growing up, reconnecting, and bonds that never die; better to have loved than not experience a particular flame at all.
Fortunately, the ending is tender and touching, but that consideration is missing from much of the final 30 minutes. Of An Age is a tale of two halves where the second half isn’t constructed with the same level of care and craft. But Elias Anton and Thom Green will still steal hearts, with a central romance equally uplifting as it is heartbreaking.