There really is something quite comforting as a gay man to watch queer-themed films of late that haven’t adhered to the “Bury Your Gays” trope that so many films and television shows adopted over the last few decades. Essentially killing off any queer character in a bid to get straight audiences to possibly understand the magnitude of their gay love story, the notion that any of these stories had to be laced with a certain tragedy became practically farcical from a viewing perspective.
Now, queer-themed films still dabble in this narrative trope, but it feels less necessary in getting the point across that two men pursuing each other is no different than that of a man and a woman, or, hell, even two women for that matter. Queer characters – and all the fluidity that comes with such an identity – are becoming more and more a standard staple in the telling of everyday stories, but we aren’t entirely out of the woods yet, as the tragedy that comes with the “Gay longing” archetype is still one many narratives are utilising to their advantages.
Of An Age is such a film that flirts with this particular trope, initially setting itself around a particularly chaotic 24 hours in the life of 17-year-old Nikola (Elias Anton). Waking up to learn that his competitive ballroom dancing partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook, wonderfully committing to the manic energy of her character), is stranded on a beach after a bender the night before, coming down off whatever drug she took, and entirely unaware of how to get home, he is tasked with getting in contact with her older brother, Adam (Thom Green), and finding her for a discreet pick-up. Now, given that this film is set in 1999, writer/director Goran Stolevski has an awful lot of fun with the lack of mobile communication ease, the pain of disrupting internet connections, and using a handy refidex street directory in order to find certain locations, as well as leaning into the Australian slang so often used with wild abandon in the late 90’s – some of which may be viewed as more offensive through the increasingly precious ears of modern audiences; for what it’s worth, any of the derogatory slang mentioned here was met with hearty bouts of laughter over any misplaced shock.
Over the course of the day Nikola and Adam get to know each other more intimately as they share anecdotes and life stories over their various car trips, with Adam’s confidence in his homosexuality challenging Nikola to eventually admit it to himself. Stolevski indulges in extreme close-ups throughout to highlight this intimacy, but it also can’t help but reveal the difference in Anton and Green’s individual strengths as actors; the former – looking far older than his supposed 17-years – unable to always push past an obvious “acting” delivery, whilst the latter has an effortlessness that furthers his organic nature as a performer.
Despite Anton’s appearance and occasional reliance on theatre acting, his Nikola is a character many will identify with, and his deflection when talking about Adam’s homosexuality and how “it’s cool to be gay” is an all-too-familiar temperament to have for someone knowing they’re gay, but being too afraid to explore that. Of An Age doesn’t delve too deeply into the religious or societal areas of being gay – Nikola’s Serbian heritage clearly playing a part on his own psyche though – but the late 90’s as a whole wasn’t as easily accepting, especially for a 17-year-old boy at the tail-end of high-school.
Their day together ultimately culminates in a night of passion, ending the film’s first “Chapter” on a bittersweet note as both men have to part on their own paths – Nikola to university, Adam to another country to start his humanitarian work – but are also all too aware that this moment they shared could be explored for the better. It’s one of the film’s most human moments, especially after the chaos and theatricality of what came prior, and it sets up an interesting dynamic for the films’ backend (the second “Chapter”) where they reunite some 11 years later for Ebony’s wedding. Socially, it’s a situation overdone with pleasantries, but the evident love that still lingers is present in every knowing glance.
The subtle unhappiness in Ebony’s eyes and an internalised sense of rage, regret and passion that both Nikola and Adam harbour makes the film’s second half – or really last third, given how much of the film dedicates itself to their initial interaction – its stronger component. I found the 1999 scenes far funnier (whether that was intentional or not, I’m unsure) and less involving overall, with the 2010 setting sitting more comfortably, both from a performance standpoint and that the characters’ maturity allows more to transcend through their subtle interactions. Stolevski knows he’s devastating his audience as whatever happy ending we hope Nikola and Adam will find seems constantly out of reach, in spite of their best efforts.
Just as we have gradually moved away from the tragic undercurrent of queer stories, I hope the longing mentality similarly becomes less of a necessity in detailing queer relationships, but it’s at least a more acceptable and relatable narrative to audiences across the board. Of An Age may not have enough universality to break through entirely to straight audiences, but there’s a sense of comfort at least that these stories still earn a large-enough platform to be heard.
Of An Age is now screening in Australian theatres. It’s available On Demand in the United States.