The Way Way Back is the first genuine coming-of-age movie that I can remember seeing since The Man From Snowy River. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do not drag their audience through yet another one of the endless stories about puberty and gross sexuality. Instead, they have a witty comedy about finding a sense of self during adolescence, that age of critical insecurity. Liam James’s fourteen-year-old character, Owen, is trapped in the impossible middle ground of his early teenage years. He sees and understands what is going on with the adults around him, but he isn’t old enough to have much power to change anything in his family or his own life. All of that changes when he falls into a job at a local water park. People there treat him like a person, and he learns a lot about what it takes to be a man. The Way Way Back is a refreshing change of pace from most stories in its genre. The mandatory embarrass-the-teenager moment is about rocking out to headphones, not masturbation or pornography. Liam’s joking nickname is about a time when he overcomes a challenge with some guts and a little grace. The relationships are damaged, but human. Even the film’s antagonist played by Steve Correll is fatally flawed, not evil. but that does not change the damage his flaws do to those around him. This is not a ground-breaking drama but it is a labor of love, and about love of self in a positive way, and the impact it has on the relationships and circumstances around us. This summer indie film is out on DVD and I recommend it.
Continuing in my week of independent media, I accepted a challenge to read The Emperor’s Edge by Linday Buroker. The Emperor’s Edge is the free first installment in her series of the same name. Not quite steampunk, Buroker’s work is a solid bit of fantasy set in an early-industrial city. Buroker’s prose is tight, her characters are delightfully colorful without being quite over the top. Buroker eschews sky ships, crystal magic, and random katanas that clutter the gears of most steampunk novels. Our heroine Amaranthe Lokdon is a rare female cop in the city who stumbles across the wrong case and finds herself in a running adventure. Hallmarks of Victorian drama are all here: secret societies, intrigue among the upper echelons, the hidden virtues of the underclass, all mixed with a lingering loyalty to society and family that postmodern authors would do well to emulate. Amaranthe is my favorite type of heroine, strong and intuitive without overcompensating aggression or misanthropic bitterness.
Buroker is strong on her basics. Her prose is tight. her characters have strong introductions, and they are deep enough to spend some time discovering even as Amaranthe’s innate compassion and leadership skills helps them along to become more than they were in the beginning. Dynamic characters, an interesting cityscape with a good blend of classes and ethics. The young emperor Amaranthe sets out to save isn’t a mere damsel in distress, either. He has character and resources that depict him as worth saving. A semi-magic street punk, a master assassin who is loads of fun, an over-pampered pretty boy swordsman, and an insightful bookworm round out a delightful cast.
The Emperor’s Edge is free, but it is worth money, and best of all there are more books out in the series to enjoy!