One of the trickier hurdles that romantic movies need to clear is convincing the viewer to swoon, too. That bar proves insurmountably high in “Of an Age,” a confident if unpersuasive story about a quintessentially alienated teenager falling for guy in his mid-20s who checks all the heartthrob boxes: He’s kind, good looking, has a nice smile and seems to like the attention directed at him. Yet why this object of desire, an ostensibly serious thinker en route to grad school, would fall for our charisma-challenged protagonist remains thoroughly mystifying.
The writer-director Goran Stolevski made a modest splash at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival with his feature debut, “You Won’t Be Alone,” a silly witchy-woman horror movie set in 19th-century Macedonia that effectively flicks at your nerves without taxing your brain. For his new movie, Stolevski has shifted focus and swapped genres to create a low-key, intimate portrait of a young man’s awakening — sexual and otherwise — in Melbourne. It’s the summer of 1999 when Kol (Elias Anton), a Serbian immigrant a few weeks shy of 18, encounters Adam (a fine Thom Green), who over the course of a day upends the teen’s life.
Overlong story short, they meet strainingly cute through Adam’s sister Ebony (Hattie Hook), who’s Kol’s dance partner and only apparent friend, though mostly just an off-putting script contrivance. Her role is to get the guys together, which she does in a protracted opener that settles down with Adam behind the wheel and Kol riding jumpy shotgun. They talk and talk. Adam not-so-casually shares that he’s gay and single, news that Kol receives with transparent anxiety and obvious interest. Later, they attend a party where a couple of girls are mean to Kol, who’s rescued by Adam. The guys hit the road again, and talk and talk some more.
Stolevski, as his earlier work shows, knows his way around a camera. Working with the cinematographer Matthew Chuang (who also shot “You Won’t Be Alone”), Stolevski uses the physical confines of the car with intelligence, shrewdly marshaling its tight space to create a sense of claustrophobia that subtly shifts into intimacy as the men warm to each other. He also does nice work with the Australian light, in some sequences giving the visuals a blurry radiance that softens every hard edge, turns an ordinary cityscape into a jewel box and looks particularly lovely when bounced off Adam’s bare skin.
It’s too bad then that, for all the bashful and gawking looks he employs playing Kol, Anton just doesn’t cut it as a timid, socially awkward adolescent outsider, a serious impediment to the movie’s fragile realism. The actor makes more sense in the role when the story jumps forward in time, bringing a now-strappingly adult Kol with it. The movie’s greater, intractable problem, though, is that Stolevski has burdened his characters with such obvious narrative instrumentality — Kol is the sensitive naïf while Adam is the appealing, gentle exemplar of an authentic life — that the two simply never come to life as people, either as individuals or as a couple. They say and do everything that they should, and also everything that you expect.
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