It wasn’t too long ago that queer people couldn’t walk away from a love story without seeing themselves die first. Killing off queer characters was apparently the only way to get straight audiences to understand the magnitude of their love. After films like Brokeback Mountain, television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and too many other examples to list popularized—and became derided for—this phenomenon, it became known as the “Bury Your Gays” trope.
In recent years, Hollywood has made the bold decision to occasionally let queer characters live at the end of the story. Imagine that! The hole left by queer death has now been filled by queer longing, a much more realistic—if equally heartbreaking—storytelling device.
The stifled, torturesome desire of an unspeakable love that goes against the grain of society is what made Timothée Chalamet put a pair of his crush’s swim trunks over his head. It’s what brought Harry Styles drunkenly to the stoop of his lover’s London flat. And it’s what makes the two days depicted in Of an Age feel like two lifetimes’ worth of yearning.
Writer-director Goran Stolevski’s Of an Age, which is now in theaters after enamoring the Australian festival scene last year, follows the love story of two men across time.
In 1999, 18-year-old Nikola (Elias Anton) experiences a whirlwind day of unexpected enchantment when his best friend and competitive dance partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook), wakes up hungover and disoriented on a beach after a night of partying. In a booze-soaked daze, Ebony finds a payphone and begs Nikola to call her older brother Adam (Thom Green)—a mystifyingly cool college grad who has the aura of a ’90s James Dean—to discreetly pick her up.
Over the course of one day, Nikola and Adam go from strangers to lovers, but their different life paths work against them. Nikola has just started to think about college, and Adam is about to depart Melbourne to do humanitarian work in another country. Ebony, however, stays the common thread between the two, eventually leading them back to one another 11 years later, when the strength of the one unforgettable day will alter them both once more.
Of An Age does so much with its frugality. It allows its characters to move and behave naturally, without trying so hard to create a dynamic so sorely unforgettable that it becomes a maladroit muddle. Stolevski—along with Green and Anton—has crafted something so singular that it transcends the inherent urge to compare it to other queer films. By narrowing its focus, staying locked into a simmering desire on the verge of volcanic explosion, Of an Age builds an empathetically messy tale that weaves heartache with the haunting ecstasy of first love.
When Nikola and Adam first meet, Nikola is frenzied. Ebony’s early morning phone call interrupted his last-minute rehearsal for their competitive dance showcase, taking place in just a few hours. When Nikola gets into Adam’s beat-up jalopy, he’s practically vibrating with anxiety. It’s only when Adam tells him that there’s no possible way that they can pick up Ebony and make it back in time for their showcase that Nikola looks down at himself and recognizes the humor of the moment. There he is, looking like an extra from Strictly Ballroom, in the front seat of a stranger’s car, on his way to pick up his best friend as she rides out her hangover in the heat of an Aussie summer.
Stolevski sprinkles wit into his screenplay with dexterity. He understands that laughter goes hand in hand with sex when it comes to attraction—something that many stories of queer romance often forget to acknowledge, too busy instead trying so hard to make the audience feel the tension of new, forbidden love.
As Adam and Nikola embark on their extended road trip to a faraway beach, they’ve got nothing to do besides joke with one another and get to know each other. They poke and prod at their family histories and interests, dissecting to connect. They share an undeniable chemistry, but it’s only when Adam reveals that the box of tapes in his backseat belongs to an ex-boyfriend that Nikola starts to clam up.
For Nikola, this revelation causes the two boys’ immediate closeness to take on a new layer of intimacy. He worries that spending the last few hours opening up about being an outsider and an intellectual—one who’s clad in a gaudy dance outfit—will tip Adam off to a secret he was barely trying to protect. As they venture home with Ebony, Nikola lets his guard back down. Day turns to dusk and into night. And yet, Adam and Nikola just can’t seem to let each other go, culminating in a night of passion followed by a morning of unimaginable sorrow when the two have no choice but to separate.
Of an Age manages to create the same twisting knot of conflicting feelings for its audience as it does for its characters. At once, we experience the same distinct combination of excitement and apprehension that Nikola and Adam do, knowing that what they’re doing might mark them forever. It’s the feeling you get just before sending a risky text or blurting out a thought you’ve been perpetually holding in; it’s more likely to return heartache, but we can’t know if we don’t try.
It’s rare that we’ll get to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and hold them as a mirror to old loves years later. But when Adam and Kol return to Melbourne in 2010 for Ebony’s wedding, they get the chance to reconnect they never thought they’d have. Socially, it’s practically a new world, and they’re both different people. In the years since, they’ve loved and lost, but never forgotten what they shared together in those 24 hours, over a decade ago. In a moment where the stars have seemingly aligned, their reunion will force them to face how their love trapped them in time, for better and for worse.
Stolevski’s camera focuses on Green and Anton with rare precision. At times, the director even feels lost in the moment he’s creating, reluctant to call cut. Tight close-ups allow us to lather in the humidity of their protracted gazes, making the film as scintillatingly sexy as it is romantic. The pair share a palpable tenderness that feels like a warm, protective hand on the shoulder. Their assurance makes for breathtaking alchemy—and it’s what makes Of an Age hit you right in the gut as Kol and Adam try to find whatever their version of a happy ending might be.
Of an Age will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Andrew Haigh’s 2011 film Weekend, which also takes place over the course of just a couple of days. But here, a different, more youthful display of queer naivety spills out before us. Adam and Nikola will resonate with anyone who has had something pulled away from them without just cause. Not all relationships have an irreparable fissure. Some just cannot move forward due to forces outside of our own control. Arguably, those are even more detrimental. At least when the foundation is cracked, it makes sense when something splits.
Of An Age stunningly details how, for queer people especially, the most formative moments are often fleeting. It’s why stories of queer longing have become so wildly frequent.
There are endless tales to be told with one violently powerful feeling. Some connections have a time clock, no matter how badly we don’t want them to end. What happens if (or maybe, inevitably, when) we become stuck on them? Love—like its bedfellow, grief—can bruise you forever if you don’t know how to handle its power. Even then, sometimes you have no choice but to stay in its grip until you’re beyond black and blue, flush with red-hot rapture all over.
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