Of An Age is a rare gem: a uniquely Australian dramatic feature that doesn’t succumb to tired soap-opera cliché or cringe humour. With this incredibly affecting queer coming-of-age story, director and writer Goran Stolevski has secured his place as the most interesting Australian director in years, and an auteur to watch out for.
From the opening scene of the lonely and despairing Nikola (Elias Anton), sitting atop the hills of power-line infested Watsonia, to the juxtaposition of the young Ebony (Hattie Hook, in her first feature role) passed out on an Altona beach in 1999, we know we’re in for a Melburnian treat.
Act One: 1999
The teenage Ebony is in a pickle: having drunk too much the previous night, she’s awoken in a mystery town miles from home, with no way to get back. Oh, and her VCE dance final is in two hours. After relaying this information via payphone to her dance partner Nikola, the two soon realise that there’s only one person who can help them: Ebony’s older brother Adam (Thom Greene), who has the day off – and more importantly, has a car.
After this disaster of a road trip brings them together for the first time, Adam and Nikola (who prefers going by the more anglicised ‘Kol’) discover they have a lot more in common than they first thought. Favourite authors, favourite movies, favourite music, and, surprisingly for Kol, a burgeoning queer crush.
Of An Age is not just uniquely Melburnian, but uniquely suburban in its depiction of 1990s public schools, local civic centres, ethnic households, and fluorescent-lit shopping centres – in a way that only someone who lived it could pull off. In this sense, Stolevski is as authentic as they come, writing from well within his wheelhouse as a Macedonian-Australian man whose own memories of growing up as a queer teen in the 90s inspired the screenplay.
It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, and most of all it’s relatable to anyone who’s experienced first love – the kind that knocks you off your feet and turns your small, dull suburban world into something big, exciting and colourful.
The least romantic place in the world
When we interviewed him for ScreenHub, Stolevski said that he liked the idea of making a romantic film ‘in the least-romantic place in the world,’ which for him meant suburban Melbourne in 1999. The film came together relatively quickly, and all while dealing with the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Taking that into consideration, and the fact that all three lead actors are relatively unknown, Of An Age is a real marvel. Somehow the cast and crew manage to take the least romantic place in the world and turn it into a fascinating, buzzing canvas for one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever seen to unfold.
The script is tight, and full of references that will make Australian audiences hum in recognition and not in embarassment. Thom Greene and Elias Anton have a palpable chemistry onscreen that gets you invested straight away, and Hattie Hook shines as the comedic relief. Nowhere does the film fall prey to stereotype, despite edging so close to it with its themes of gay love, conservative immigrant families, and drug-fueled teenage parties.
When the film jumps forward ten years, as friends and lovers reunite in 2010s Melbourne, the story’s grip doesn’t loosen, instead remaining just as tension-filled and hopeful: only this time with a lot more baggage.
Not enough can be said as well about Matthew Chuang’s cinematography for helping to pull it all off. From the tight close-ups of the young men gazing at each other, to the frantic hand-held shots when Kol and Ebony are trying to make their dance final, to the twilight-lit wide-shots up on the Watsonia hills – which play host to many of the film’s most tender moments – this film is beautiful to look at.
Stolevski also edited the film, which essentially means he was in control of the story from start to finish. It’s a rare talent that can write, direct, and edit an unpretentious, teen-years inspired flick, but I’m pleased to say he nails it.
Part coming of age, part queer awakening, part love letter to Melbourne’s dull – but never static – suburbia, Of An Age is destined to become a fast favourite for the film lovers of Australia.
Of An Age opens in cinemas nationwide from 23 March