Towelhead

 
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  • Man's Inhumanity to Man
    The movie illustrates what happens when people use hate language, when they call another person this, when they can't see the humanity in the other person. They can't look into another person's eyes and see a brother, a sister... but I see what is different, what is other than me, what is misunderstood, what is to be feared. This is Alan Ball discussing Towelhead in the second bonus feature on the DVD.

    This film confused and disturbed me during the first 7/8 of the film. At two hours and four minutes, that is a long time to be confused. The ending drives this film toward a conclusion that most can likely live with, not full reconcilliation, but a lot of realization. Then hearing Alan Ball talk about his film in the two special features, the film made sense.

    The story is about a 13 year old girl that is abused in many ways. There is nothing subtle or generally good about the people that surround Jasira. There are many moments where I knew what would happen, but kept saying no no no please don't let that happen. The scenes with the next door neighbor are creepy beyond imagination.

    But the film ends up being a lot more than a coming of age film. It's more about man's inhumanity to man. What Alan Ball says, we see the misunderstood, not that this is somebody's sister, or brother, or daughter. Instead there is a mob mentality that discriminates.

    So this is a small film, done on a small budget, that has massive ideas. It's a compelling story. Well worth watching. Most will squirm, most will feel very uncomfortable. But it's a topic that requires a viewer to feel this way.

    On a film level, this is not exactly well done. The camera work is work-a-day television grade. The editing is slow and not well paced. The film could easily be 30 minutes shorter. The conflict is built for a bit too long, and the resolution comes as a wall, almost too fast. The acting is appropriate at all levels. The only detractor is Melina, played by Toni Collette. She is a kind soul, and pleasant, but she was a bit too one dimensional to me, maybe a bit too pleasant.

    There are much better films on this topic, Ben X a Belgian film about a boy with autism that is horribly mistreated in ways much worse than Jasira; Boy A a story about a boy after his release from prison for murdering a young girl, Edge of Heaven a stunning film that hits closer to the mark directly on this topic. I highly recommend Edge of Heaven, especially if you enjoyed Towelhead.

    There's an interesting back debate about this film. The title, the subject matter, the way 13 year olds were portrayed. The bonus features of this DVD are illuminating, not because of what the horrible guests have to say, but what Alan Ball and Alicia Erin have to say in response. Alicia Erin is the author of Towelhead, the novel this movie was based on, and happens to be Arab-American. Alan Ball is openly homosexual. There is a way to view this movie as a horrible male fantasy. Sadly, viewing the film in this manner is probably not the best interpretation. Those particular scenes are never filmed directly, we get to see the lead up to and the aftermath, but never any intimate view of the act (if this truly were some sick fantasy piece, these scenes would have been filmed very differently).

    There are two bonus featurettes (totaling one hour and 21 minutes), supposedly "community" discussion of the film. They are well worth watching. The first guest actually watched the film, but had nothing but platitudes to say, with no depth. This discussion included the girl who played Jasira, her father, and the director. The second guest was pitiful, he had only read 3/4 of the book and had not seen the film. But he was inflamed by the title of the movie and had to make his point. This discussion included the author and the director. Watch more for the people involved in the film and their responses than these supposed expert guests.

    This film is rated R. There is no nudity (there is one scene where the female anatomy is shown in graphic detail in a book). It deals with a very mature subject, in a mature manner. There is virtually no violence. There is some strong language, but at appropriate times. A mature younger viewer could possibly watch this film.

    A difficult film that will make you squeemish at times. It is worth watching....more info
  • Towelhead Is The Correct Title, Not The Stupid New One Being Touted: Nothing Is Private
    ***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


    Fear of being politically incorrect has never been a problem in Hollywood. Just look at things like Religulous and you'll see a good example of that. Hollywood also isn't afraid to show the bitter side of being human. Things like Crash showed our prejudices, both inside government and in the home. So it comes as no surprise that these predecessors have spring-boarded such successes as this film, TOWELHEAD.

    The big difference here, I guess, is that the title itself gives away some of -- if not all of -- the film's intent. It's also a graphic title, depicting a rather hated racial slur. But still, it stands out as a b@llsy way to get a message across using one effective word. But, apparently, distributors didn't like it, so if you're looking for this film to purchase or rent, you'll have to look it up under its new, more politically appealing title, NOTHING IS PRIVATE (talk about a lame!). But I'm going to stick with Towelhead because a) I like being politically volatile, and b) the original title is appropriate for the film's machinations.

    The story is about Jasira Maroun (Summer Bishil), the sexually awakening daughter of divorced parents in America. Part white on her mother's side (Maria Bello, A History of Violence) and part Lebanese on her father's (Peter Macdissi, Six Feet Under), Jasira is a nearly fully developed young woman while being only 13 years old. This doesn't escape the attention of a macho, and much older, neighbor named Travis (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) who begins prowling after her even though he's married and at least 20 years her senior ...and it's illegal.

    Towelhead is rife with prejudice ...and rightfully so. It shows us not just anglo prejudices against other races, but brown against black, brown against redneck whites, and black against white. It also traces the problems many nationalities have growing up in a culture far removed from their roots. This is seen in Jasira's father when he must learn how to handle his daughter who's sexual appetite he can't begin to understand, and dealing with his own needs as a man when he finds solace in the arms of an American woman while leaving Jasira to fend for herself.

    Unfortunately I did have a problem with the minimal incorporation of another neighbor played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine). She takes a keen interest in Jasira and even becomes -- out of the blue -- a mother figure that Jasira seems to need very badly. But this section was so rushed that it was forced onto the viewer.

    I must also strike a note of caution for those who are uncomfortable with certain unseemly aspects of society; particularly those who don't like child abuse or pedophilia. This film holds back nothing (and I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G!). From a young girl's loss of her hymen by an adult to interracial, underage, sexual experimentation Towelhead really goes the distance in showing us the darker side of a world we'd rather leave behind closed doors. But opening them can open our eyes and reveal our own misunderstandings surrounding prejudices and our neighbors next door.

    A movie well worth renting and seeing ...if you can handle it....more info
  • An excellent movie but one you probably won't want to see again
    This is a very important and also an excellent film. Jasira is in eight-grade and entering adolescense. She is at first a very passive character and because she is still a child, she has to do what the adults in her life tell her. She is sent away from her mother's and mother's boyfriend house in Syracuse to live with her father because her mother doesn't want to come to terms with the fact that her boyfriend is attracted to Jasira. Her father is a strict disciplinarian but also frequently absent from their home because he is with his girlfriend. A white Texan neighbor grows fond of Jasira and forces himself on her. Seeing this young girl bullied, used and neglected by the adults in her life is painful to watch. I felt angry but also extremely sad to see someone be abused like that. Although confused about what is happening to her at first, Jasira starts to realize that she is being wronged and it did make me happy to see her eventually take matters into her own hands and take back her life. I kind of wanted her father to mature and realize what a horrible example he is for his child but he just seems to self-absorbed. I think everyone should see this movie including teenagers. It is shocking, sad and disturbing but we cannot deny that these kind of things happen to teenagers the world over and if you do deny that, you are blinding yourself. ...more info
  • Soft porn is what I call it.
    I found this film upsetting, not because it deals with sex abuse of a child, or dysfunctional family issues but because the film spends a good deal of time on voyeuristic scenes of young Jasira. Since I work in a mental health institution I see the results of this kind of abuse and would support any vehicle that helps adults and children to avoid sinking into the sex/beauty trap but this film in my opinion goes way beyond what is necessary to convey the damage and strays into showing scenes that become what I call soft porn. Worse yet is the young girl is also dealing with cultural differences. While in the end the neighbor couple intervene all the adults seemed sterotypical or just lacking reality. It could have been a good film for young teens or a diversity class but the whole thing was ruined by too much nudity and sexual detail. The book given the girl to read was great but having her talk her boyfriend into the physical act was more of the same stereotyping of young girls. ...more info
  • An Arab-American "American Beauty" sort of tale
    ***BEWARE SPOILERS***

    The story begins as Jasira (Summer Bishil) is about to get a bikini line shave from her mother's boyfriend. Oops. Mom finds out and sends Jasira to live with her overbearing Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi) who, although much Americanized, still sees some things, especially things to do with his daughter, in a more conservative, Middle Eastern way. Naturally we know that her budding sexuality is going to collide with his prohibitions. It could get ugly. Throw in a black boy friend (Eugene Jones III), some noisy neighbors, an army reservist Travis (Aaron Eckhart, who gets to play yet another jerk; c.f., his roles in Thank You for Smoking (2005) and In the Company of Men (1997)) who is smitten with her but doesn't know what to do about it (and what he does do, he does badly), and Jasira begins to live, shall we say, in interesting times.

    I think we can understand the relationship depicted between Travis and Jasira by realizing that a point is being made: even though Jasira comes on to him, he has a societal responsibility to deflect her school girl advances regardless of how he feels. Her coming on to him is portrayed as girlish and equivocal. Again his responsibility is to keep his hands off of her. The overarching point is that no matter what happens between them since she is 13-years-old and he is an adult, it is entirely his fault.

    On the other hand, her experience with the ultra clean cut Thomas Bradley who is black is seemingly okay. They took precautions and he was gentle and they were more or less equals. All of this is carefully thought out to appeal to the mentality of a general audience. Of course the mentality of the Arab-American counsel (if there is such a thing) as well as conservative religious groups in general, will find this outrageous. In Islam countries you can be sure that this film is banned.

    What I liked about the movie was the light comedic intent from director Alan Ball, reminiscent of his work in the Academy Award winning American Beauty (1999) especially in the true-to-life (in a satirical way) the action is depicted, and in the way the men are a bit clueless. Some of it was strange. The "competing" flag poles, the business with the little white cat, Jasira's orgasms at the drop of...well at seeing pictures of naked women or rocking herself with her legs crossed--but perhaps there is a lesson here for someone: some people are polymorphous perverse (especially as children) as it was once said (by Freud, I think); that is, they have a generalized sense of sexuality. And some people are auto erotic.

    I also liked the implicit forgiveness of the characters. And I liked the way Ball didn't try to resolve the moral issues. Certainly racism is wrong. Certainly grown men cannot have sex with 13-year-olds. But beyond that, Ball did not go in a prescriptive way. Instead, through different characters he showed different points of view, all related to Jasira's awakening sexuality. Finally I liked the character of Jasira, who was brave, assertive at times, passive at other times, and fair and honest with herself in the face of some demanding adolescent challenges. And I liked the young actress who played her. She was pretty, and very winning. And, by the way, Summer Bishil was born in 1988 and therefore 18 or 19 years old when this movie came out. She did a terrific job of acting 13.

    Note that the title of this movie, for politically correct reasons, one supposes, has been changed to "Nothing Is Private." At least that is how it is listed at IMDb....more info
  • "How Can You Find Yourself if No One Can See You?"
    With a name like Towelhead, one already anticipates a certain level of discomfort. (That's the first "caution sign.") Moreover, with minimal investigation, the potential viewer knows this film addresses issues physical and sexual abuse (in frank detail). (That's the second "caution sign"). And, dig slightly deeper into synopses and one discovers that the film addresses issues of "consensual sex" between a thirteen-year-old interracial couple (Jasira's father is an unapologetic racist, so this becomes an issue) AND repeated scenes involving the minutia of menstruation. (There's the third hint of "caution"). Now, assemble all these pieces and what one may conclude is that he/she may not want to share this work with his/her teen. And there is nothing prudish about that decision. This is an extraordinarily complex film--amidst all the horrifying events, there are glimpses of love. This may confuse a young person. And, honestly, it may not be a sage choice to let a teen watch it privately if one is too fearful to enter into a discussion about it later (though I am personally not an advocate of censorship). So, please, don't buy this DVD for family-night--it probably won't run past the three-minute mark.

    With this said, I was impressed with Allan Ball's adaptation of Alicia Erian's novel. The film resounds a note of authenticity--though it's a truth most will not want to acknowledge. Watching young Jasira (Summer Bishil) attempt to navigate a her Texas school (where she is presumed Mexican because of her skin color) is excruciating. The audience wants to rush to her defense. Moreover, her callous, intimidating, abusive father renders her home uncertain and uncomfortable. He seems entirely unreachable. Even in her part-time job as a babysitter, Jasira is assaulted with racial epithets from her ten-year-old charge...and lasciviously leered at by child's father (played by Aaron Eckhart). These trials seem all too real. Yes, it is an uncomfortable film ... but reality can be uncomfortable. And, I think that every place Todd Solondz failed with Happiness (equally as controversial but not nearly as valuable), this film succeeds. Told from the perspective of an battered and confused young woman, this film (and the novel) opens a much needed dialogue. Regardless of race, many women are going to find some sliver of themselves in Jasira's character: even if it's only her attempts to come-to-terms with her sexuality (she notes our "Playboy" culture and how these air-brushed women represent one "ideal" ... and tries to understand her own sexuality in light of this.)

    Moreover, it is crucial to note that the film isn't a pitch-black examination of abuse. A neighboring family offers a haven to Jasira. They provide her with the care and attention she so desperately deserves. Likewise, there are moments of dark humor which prevent the film from being unbearably tragic.

    Summer Bishil was nominated for Best Female Lead by the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards? for her role as Jasira. This should spark some confidence that this work isn't simply salacious or unreasonably inflammatory. And, it may actually help to know that while Bishil appears young on-screen, she was actually nineteen when the film was shot (twenty when released).

    With so many negative reviews (both from professional critics and lay-people), I was prepared to dislike this film. Instead, I walked away feeling strangely connected to it. I was touched by this young woman's struggle (although you might not be). It's a gamble. My suggestion is (if you are already interested in this work) to buy it and watch it in your leisure (perhaps alone, to avoid discomfort). And, return and post your own review ... regardless of the outcome.
    ...more info
  • Bigotry and War in a Time of Sexual Awakening...
    In the early 90s, with the Gulf War looming, a young girl with an American mother and a Lebanese father is caught up in the prejudice of the times; she is also confused by the sexual dynamics of her mother's new relationship, and her mother reacts by sending her to Texas to live with her father.

    Thus the drama of Towelhead unfolds.

    Her new suburban neighborhood and school force Jasira Maroun (portrayed by Summer Bashil) to confront the dilemmas created by her parentage in a time of war and bigotry. Combined with her burgeoning adolescent sexual awareness, the young girl strives to sort out who she is and what her feelings mean. She is attracted to an African-American boy at her school, but at the same time, she notices the effect she has on the adult men surrounding her in the neighborhood. Especially the next-door neighbor, Travis Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart).

    Then when Mr. Vuoso makes inappropriate overtures, the young girl is unable to understand the implications. Sexual conflict, molestation, and a father's strict corporal punishment thrust this coming-of-age tale into a drama of epic proportions.

    Meanwhile, another young neighborhood couple, Gil and Melina Hines - portrayed by Toni Collette and Matt Letscher - offer sanctuary while Jasira tries to sort out the conflicting messages that constantly barrage her in this new life.

    In the end, what will Jasira learn from her experiences? Will she accept the normal feelings while separating out those that serve to victimize her? The ending is surprisingly touching - lending an authenticity to the feelings and experiences of a young girl facing normal conflicts in a surreal time and place.

    Laurel-Rain Snow
    Author of:
    Web of Tyranny, etc.
    ...more info
  • AWKWARD, UNCOMFORTABLE AND LACKING HUMOR
    THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS but I believe it's only fair that you know what you're getting into before viewing. Read at your own risk.

    Towelhead (orginally titled Nothing Is Private) opens with 13 year old Jasira being coerced by her mother's boyfriend to let him to shave her p*bic area. She acquiesces. When her mother finds out she blames Jasira and promptly ships her off to live with her equally self-centered father.

    On her first morning with her father he violently slaps her because she wears a T-shirt and boxer shorts at the breakfast table. Then, when Jasira gets her period her father refuses to let her use tampons, only maxipads, which causes a humiliating incident at school. When her father discovers, through a clogged toilet, that Jasira has disobeyed him he goes ballistic and refuses to address her blossoming womanhood. These scenes set the tone for the rest of the movie.

    Jasira ges a regular babysitting job watching the 10 year old son of Army reservist neighbor Mr. Vuoso (played by the uber-hunky Aaron Eckhart. There should a law against being so damn sexy!). Jasira and her charge discover Vuoso's nudie magazine stash and soon afterward Jasira learns to pleasure herself to completion and does so at any given opportunity regardless of location (the source of several cringe inducing scenes).

    When she is caught looking at the magazines by Mr. Vuoso, he develops an inappropriate interest in her which culminates with him taking her virginity by force. Meanwhile, Jasira is also being courted by Thomas, a black guy from school, who may actually like her but only wants to have sex with her.

    Confused by her changing body and conflicting sexual desires and obssessed with becoming desirable like the nude women in the magazines, Jasira oscillates between being sexually abused by Mr. Vuoso (clueless to the fact she is being raped) and sexually active with Thomas (whom her father hates because he's black).

    Then Jasira's pregnant neighbor Melina soon suspects what is going on between Jasira and Mr. Vuoso and becomes the only voice of reason and the only safe haven Jasira has in her sexually confusing and abusive world.

    I didn't have a problem with Towelhead's subject matter. I believe films that tackle taboo subjects are important but need to be done well. Towelhead tries to create a darkly humorous universe like a Todd Solondz film (Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness comes to mind). However, it presents itself in a straight forward manner that lacks the dark humor to create a balance with the drama. It doesn't help that all of the characters are two dimensional caricatures.

    Instead of awkwardly laughing, I felt uncomfortable and dirty throughout its entirety. I would have given Towelhead 4 stars had its subject matter been handled more delicately, offset with a healthy dose of dark humor. Nonetheless, it was an interesting film that entertained me and has stayed with me for days. Certianly not a film for "mainstream" audiences or conservative types and certianly not a humorous film to boot....more info
  • Uncomfortable, Yes. Tasteless? Absolutely Not.
    This is one uncomfortable film. It will make your skin crawl, perhaps make your stomach hurt, and definitely leave you creeped out. However, what creeps me out a bit more is the overwhelming amount of reviews here that mistake an uncomfortable film for a tasteless movie, when "Towelhead" is anything but. Alan Ball has crafted a very fine, very thoughtful movie that isn't afraid to go to dark places to get its point across, much like his first film, American Beauty. It's not a masterpiece like his screenplay for "American Beauty," nor is it as focused, but it does show a sophistication in both script and direction, which is remarkable considering this is the first feature that Alan Ball directed.

    "Towelhead" is a movie about the sexual awakening of a young Arab-American girl named Jasira. As the title suggests, there is an undertone of racial tension, but the movie is much more about a neglected and misunderstood girl searching for attention in a misguided way. Her lack of a solid upbringing and desire to rebel against her strict and two-faced father, paired with her intrigue with sex, leads to her emersing herself in a very adult world. Seeing this, and seeing her eventual realization as to what has truly been going on, is truly disturbing. It's a fine exercise in film making, complete with the weird quirkiness of Ball's "American Beauty" and Six Feet Under that has become his trademark. And, as with all Alan Ball works, no matter how dark it gets, there is always a ray of hope that things will somehow--a long while after what we see in the movie--be okay.

    All in all, "Towelhead" can be said to be made up of a bunch of extremes. It's definitely Alan Ball's most edgy and risky work. It's also his most experimental work, as both a writer and a director. It, however, is not his best work, because it does lack the focus of "American Beauty" and the philosophical significance of "Six Feet Under," as well as the simple charm of True Blood. It's definitely a movie I'd need to see twice to truly appreciate, but as much as I liked it--and I really did--I'm not sure I'll be seeing it again for a while. Putting comparisons to Ball's larger body of work aside, it's still a fine film that is highly watchable and very well made.

    8/10...more info
  • one of 2008's best films
    ****1/2

    Even at the tender young age of 13, the strikingly beautiful Jasira seems destined to go through life igniting the passions of the men and boys around her. A product of a mixed marriage (her mother is white, her father Lebanese) and a broken home, she lives with her strict, traditionalist dad in a Texas suburb during the time of the first Gulf War. Though shy by nature, Jasira seems wise beyond her years when it comes to exploring her burgeoning sexuality. Like many girls her age, she dreams of one day becoming a famous model like the ones she sees in fashion magazines or on billboards around town. Yet, despite the sternness and rigidity of her father, Jasira winds up getting involved with both a black boy at school and the middle-aged family man who lives two doors down.

    With "Towelhead," writer/director Alan Ball returns to the theme of simmering suburban eroticism that he explored so effectively in "American Beauty" and "Six Feet Under." Indeed, it`s safe to say that "Towelhead" is possibly the most perceptive, frank and intelligent exploration of teenage sexuality I've ever seen on film. Somehow Ball has managed to take a subject that could easily have become exploitative and sensationalistic and turned into a moving and compassionate tale of flawed individuals who, despite the fact that they may mean well, often act in ways that cause serious harm to others. As is true of every teen, Jasira is naturally curious about her body and intrigued by that secret, forbidden world of pleasure to which only grownups seem somehow privy. The trouble is that Jasira is surrounded by adults who provide her with either weak or contradictory guidance, or who can't control their own urges long enough to think about the harm they might be inflicting on others with their actions. On a broader scale, Ball questions how modern teens can be expected to make wise decisions about sex when they are routinely bombarded with mixed messages from a culture that is both highly sexualized and highly puritanical at one and the same time. Often times, we get the sense that Jasira is using her new found sexuality - without yet fully understanding the powerful effect it is having on the males around her - to fill an emotional void in her life, a void caused by a mother and a father who are so caught up in their own lives that they have little left over for their daughter. To a somewhat lesser extent, the movie also touches on the racism that exists in not only the white culture but the nonwhite culture as well. For while Jasira is being taunted by the kids at school for her dark skin (even though many assume she is Mexican), her own father is forbidding her to date a black boy who has taken a romantic interest in her.

    Ball has populated his story (based on the novel by Alicia Erian) with a rich array of complex, multi-dimensional characters, each one a unique and closely observed individual. Beyond the intriguing Jasira, there is her hot-tempered father who, in his own, perhaps clumsy, way clearly loves his daughter but who is so bound in by the traditions of his culture that he can't even begin to understand what is going on in her heart. There is the kind, pragmatic next door neighbor who keeps her eye on the girl and extends the hand of friendship when it is needed most. And, finally, there is the older man caught between what he knows is right and his compelling need to seduce a child young enough to be his own daughter. Ball makes it clear that none of these characters is a hero or a villain, that life is simply too messy and complex a business for us to be assigning such roles to individuals. Yet, he clearly acknowledges that there is such a thing as going over the line, and that adults need to understand that their own desires should never be fulfilled at the expense of others more vulnerable than themselves.

    Summer Bishil is heartbreaking and utterly believable as young Jashira, while Peter Macdissi infuses both a sense of menace and a strangely offbeat humor into the role of her hardnosed, dogmatic father. Toni Collete is her usual first rate self as the older woman who takes Jasira under her wing, offering her the kind of guidance her actual parents seem either unwilling or unable to provide for her. As the neighbor who seduces Jasira, Aaron Eckhart brings a great deal of courage, subtlety and restraint to one of the trickiest roles imaginable for an actor. Eckhart is obviously secure in the conviction that the audience will be mature enough to see the humanity in his character even while feeling disgust at his actions.

    In fact, that's pretty much the way it is with the entire film. There are some who will be instantly turned off by the highly sensitive nature of the subject matter. But, true artist that he is, Ball has been able to transcend the sleaze to provide us with a heartbreaking human drama that, by touching on the universal, is able to strike a chord of familiarity in the audience.

    Put simply, "Towelhead" is one of the very best films of 2008....more info
  • What on Earth were they thinking?
    I don't understand how movies like this get produced. We have the option to watch it or not watch it, but the fact that it exists is creepy to say the least. It has no real point besides there are some sick people out there and easy to get girls. But I watched it and fast forwarded many scenes to see what it was about.

    If you don't already know, the girl in the movie is really 20 years old but looks like she could be 10. The fact that she is having sex at the age of 13 is not a problem because girls mature around 10 or 11 years old. The problem is that this girl is having orgasms in every other scene and is willing to let any man shave her private parts who asks nicely. This is unreal. I've heard of gullible girls, but I don't think this is possible and it is sick, even if this is a movie or a fantasy.

    I laughed hysterically when the black boyfriend first asked if he could masturbate in front of the girl and was shocked when she said maybe. Then he asks her later in the movie, after he was upset that he was not allowed to see her anymore because he was black, that the only way he can impress her is by having sex with her. When she said ok, his head was in a downward position and as soon as those words got to his ears, his head shot up in disbelief. Every time he expected her to say no to his request, but he got his wishes.

    The Father of the girl is also funny with his weird Arab pride style. I remember him as the gay guy in Six Feet Under and he is the same person except with a mustache and a girlfriend. The one scene that was good was when he sat down in the home of one of the neighbors and was upset that her daughter was dating a black guy. He admitted this and said he was "just trying to save his daughter from shame." I did not understand what kind of shame, but I have always been taught(as a Muslim) that you should not have sex until you are married, whether you are a boy or girl. Does anyone still believe in that?

    I don't think anyone should watch this movie, but if you must, then be ready to forward about 30 minutes of the movie.
    ...more info
  • This movie is SICK!!!!!!
    We had to turn this movie off after about 12 minutes. The writers of this movie are sick, child predators--don't rent/buy this movie!!!!!!...more info
  • Tough Subject, Some Clumsy Handling, but Fine Acting
    TOWELHEAD may have been the successful title of the novel by Alicia Erian on which this daring movie was based, but it seems that the title could have been altered to focus on the real issues writer/director Alan Ball addresses. The audience for a film based on variations of child abuse and racism and prejudice and dismembered parenting and the physical coming of age of our youth may be small, but for those who had the courage to view TOWELHEAD either in the theater release or on DVD, the rewards are plentiful.

    13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bashil in an impressive debut) lives with her mother Gail (Maria Bello) and the live-in boyfriend Barry (Chris Messina) until an inappropriate physical advance results in Gail's denial and Jasira is sent to Texas to live with her Lebanese American Christian father Rifat (Peter Macdissi) just as Bush's preemptive Iraq War is opening. Transported to a strange world Jasira suffers the prejudices of her holier-than-thou father and in addition to school is forced to get a job babysitting - with the next-door son Zack (Chase Ellison) whose parents are redneck bigots Evelyn (Carrie Preston) and Travis Vuoso. At the Vuoso's home Jasira discovers Travis' girlie magazines shared by Zack, and Jasira's burgeoning sexuality emerges. Both at Zack's house and at school Jasira is treated as an outsider (she is half Arab half American) and endures verbal abuse from everyone - the only exception is a young African American student Thomas (Eugene Jones) who pays attention to her as a beautiful, physically mature young woman. Jasira's need to be loved and to belong leads her into situations that cross borders of proper behavior - both with Thomas and with the predator Travis. Incidents occur as Jasira learns about physical relationships and the only caring deterrent adult is the very pregnant neighbor Melina (Toni Collette) who with her husband Gil (Matt Letscher) attempt to protect Jasira from abuse. How Jasira copes with her inept parents, the cloud of prejudice, and her approach/avoidance feelings about her sexuality forms the conclusion of the story.

    Yes, the subject is tough, and yes, there are moments when better writing and better direction could have delineated character development and the presentation of the pertinent incidents could have made the movie more thoroughly acceptable, but given the concept of the film, the actors are each strong enough to make their characters credible. Bashil, Eckhart, Colette, Macdissi, Jones, and Bello are superb as is the supporting cast. This film may take a few years to cool off before it is more widely accepted. It deserves a wider audience who will be willing to face issues the film presents. Grady Harp, January 09...more info
  • Squirm-inducing movie that deals with sensitive issues
    With a title like "Towelhead", I assumed that the movie would be dealing primarily with racism, but I was wrong. Though racism is explored in this movie, it only skims the surface. The story centers around 13-year-old Jasira [Summer Bishil] who lives with her mother [Maria Bello] and her mother's live-in boyfriend. When mom's BF gets overly intimate with Jasira, mom goes into panic mode and sends Jasira away to Houston to live with her Lebanese-American dad [who is Christian by the way] Rifat [Peter Macdissi]. This is a man who rails against Western permissiveness and slaps his daughter's face when he deems her attire too provocative, forbids her using tampons ["only married women use them"], and disapproves her dating an African American ["others will look down on you", he says].

    Basically, Jasira is starved of real parental love and concern and gravitates to those who do show her affection, even if it's not always the proper sort -an over-sexed boyfriend, mom's horny BF, perverse next-door neighbor Mr Vuoso [Aaron Eckhart] who hires Jasira as a babysitter, but is soon soliciting 'services' of a different kind. The scenes between Jasira and Vuoso are the most difficult to watch [she is only 13 after all, and one particular molestation scene was too graphic for me]. It is obvious that the director is trying to push audience's buttons by taking the boundaries of this film to its extremes.

    I felt the lead actress Summer Bishil was very credible in her role as the naive and troubled 13-year-old girl who craves love and affection but instead finds herself the object of predatory lust by the opportunistic men in her life. This is a girl who is forced to grow up way before her time because of uncaring, self-absorbed parents who hardly qualify as role models and the one person who does show genuine concern for her, next-door neighbor Melina [Toni Collette] is not really able to 'save' Jasira.

    The other supporting actors are quite good too, especially Jasira's father Rifat [Peter Macdissi] who seems almost like a caricature [the lines he spews just seem incredibly fake]. Yet, even with stilted dialogue, Rifat's masochistic, holier-than-thou character retains credibility. Aaron Eckhart's role as the predator-pervert Vuoso is hard to watch [just too creepy] yet very credibly done. The director of this movie, Alan Ball was also behind American Beauty and one can see parallels between "Towelhead" and AB, though I felt this movie had much darker themes than AB.

    Despite all the squirm-inducing scenes, I still found this movie an engaging viewing experience, and it definitely raises questions for discussion. ...more info
  • I came, I watched, I came again,....!
    Just kidding about the title. I was sitting here with my pants down and a roll of paper towels and found that this movie was a let down, literally. This movie blows. And not even in the way I had hoped. There was no nudity. This is an epic FAIL. ...more info
  • Agony Thy Name is Woman
    This movie is marketed as a movie dealing with the racial issues of an Arab-American father and daughter during the Gulf War era in the United States, yet it does not. Apart from a 6 year old boy calling the girl towelhead and camel jockey there are no racial problems being dealt with. The whole story deals with a girl struggling to grow up amidst her parents divorce and each one living a selfish life.

    What i hated about this movie is that it showed the predatory nature of men in a vicious way. the scenes were horrifying to watch and basically makes one fear being a girl or giving birth to one. The girl in the movie was prey to every male character, from the mother's boyfriend, to the perverted soldier neighbor, to her abusive father and even her sex crazed teenage boyfriend!

    All this struggle and pain being experienced by this 13 year old girl is dealt with in solitude and ends with her smiling?! so the moral of the story is that if you are a girl all men will want to consume you and rape your innocence all the while you have to take it yet if you speak up then you will grow up and find yourself.

    This movie was an excuse to show sick male fantasies portrayed under the veil of a coming-of-age story. ...more info
  • Moving story with many possible turns.
    I was surprized to see that the movie started out dealing more with the challenges of a young girl even more than the racial issue. Don't let the "life's issues" scare you off from this great offering. The movie really isn't so much for intertainment, however, it doesn't preach to you either. It is not a chick flick. It simply makes one think or feel. It will put you a little on edge here and there, wondering if the story will take a particular radical turn and the results can push you. I have wondered before if I had a daughter and suddently found myself withouth a wife and trying to raise her on my own. How do I teach her about life and being careful but still allow her learn and grow? This movie takes on a tremendous number of issues and you are rarely certain where they will go with it. The interest of the married neighbor juxtaposed with the young man the girl befriends, they each can take positive or negative turns until you see what happens. This is a film one should see though it isn't one that most of us would buy or ever watch again. It is good for us to simply watch something with meat on the bones that gets our minds running, forces us to feel, and take a position on different aspects of life. I actually think this is also a thought provoking peice that makes a parent think about the difficult balance of helping children understand their sexuality, being careful, but not feeling ashamed. No worries, this movie does not try to decide that for you, though I do think it strongly illustrates the negative side of making children ashamed rather than supported, informed, and warned of the dangers of going too fast. Ultimately, the more prevailing theme of the movie is culture clash and I really feel everyone should see it though I actually only give it 3 and a half stars. Let yourself think and feel something for a change on a night you are in the mood for it. The performances are all outstanding and I have always liked Toni Collette who is a far more real actress than a lot of the Hollywood celebrities that get bigger billing....more info
  • Flawed But Nowhere Near Boring
    We saw this film because we like, as my wife puts it, "weird movies." And this is one of them.

    The relationships, dynamics, personalities, cultures and conflicts portrayed among the characters are extreme and severe, with the unfolding plot very painful and squirm-inducing. But despite all of that, and despite the open-ended ending -- the one that leaves few answers -- it's at least something that makes you think for a while. For me, it brought me back to the dark days of high school, when we were afraid to ask about what we were going through, and books like "Changing Bodies, Changing Lives" were helpful but not as much as what they call today "peer mediation."

    Because it's set in 1990-91, a lot of it is dated, especially the way "Americans" see anyone of Middle Eastern descent (in Texas, anyway; being from Metro Detroit, I've grown up with it so I'd never act the way the people do here). But if anything, it shows that Alan Ball can, after producing and writing some of this generation's most intriguing films and TV shows, cut it as a director. I just hope his next one doesn't use shock value for shock value's sake as much as it does here....more info
  • Dark, Bold and Funny but Hard to Watch
    "Towelhead"

    Dark, Bold and Funny

    Amos Lassen

    Jasira is a 13 year old Arab-American girl who is beginning the road to adolescence and sexual awakening. When her mother sends her to Houston to live with her Lebanese father who is very strict, Jasira quickly realizes that she is regarded by neighbors as something different. Her father has no patience for her as she goes through puberty and in her loneliness she reaches out to her neighbors, Mr. Vuoso, who is in the Army reserves, and Melina, a caring pregnant woman who loves to meddle.
    Jasira, in her new world, sees that she must deal with hypocrisy and racism both at home and at school while having to deal with teenage hormones and her entrance into the world as a teenager. She has a boyfriend with whom she finds some comfort but when her father discovers that he is black, problems begin. She realizes also that the adults in her life are as lost as she is.
    The movie is set in Texas in 1991 during the Gulf War. There is a lot of heavy material in the film but it comes across as a black comedy. Summer Bushil as Jasira is a revelation and her performance is award worthy. She almost carries the film but the ensemble cast bolsters her fine performance. Movies about sexual awakenings are usually not well received but this is what gives "Towelhead" its relevance. The film, while not graphic, is somewhat explicit.
    We get a cross section of the American population when we see a sexually liberated mother, a conservative Christian Arab father, right-wing Christian neighbors, liberal social activists, a middle-class African-American and a mother figure.
    Alan Ball directed "Towelhead" in his own consistent way and he gives us a lesson in racism and cultural prejudice as he uses touchy subjects to show Jasira's coming of age. This is not an easy movie to watch not only because of what it is about but because, unfortunately, the cinematography is not particularly attractive.
    ...more info
  • "How Can You Find Yourself if No One Can See You?"
    "My mother's boyfriend got a crush on me, so she sent me to live with Daddy. I didn't want to live with Daddy. He had a weird accent and came from Lebanon. . . When my parents got divorced, I wasn't upset. I had a memory of Daddy slapping my mother, and then of my mother taking off his glasses and grinding them into the floor with her shoe. I don't know what they were fighting about, but I was glad that he couldn't see anymore."

    Alan Ball is perhaps best known for directing American Beauty and Six Feet Under. Based on Alicia Erian's novel Towelhead, Ball's 2008 film (also known as "Nothing is Private") tells the coming-of-age story of a naive, thirteen-year-old Arab-American girl, Jasira (Summer Bishil), who is sent to live with her strict, Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi) in Houston after her American mother's boyfriend, Barry (Chris Messina), develops a fetish about her body. The cultural differences between Jasira and her authoritarian father create an additional challenge for the adolescent girl in adapting to her new home and to the lax American suburban culture that surrounds her. Set during the first Gulf War, Jasira soon becomes sexually obsessed with her neighbor, Mr. Vuoso, a bigoted army reservist (Aaron Eckhart). Much like American Beauty, Ball's film is equally dark, daring and shockingly humorous examination of suburban America, thanks in part to the strong narrative voice of Erian's equally smart, funny, and insightful, novel. This recommended film also stars Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and has Oscar potential. Ball's film is an example of Hollywood film-making at its best.

    11/05/08 Update: Summer Bishil received a Spirit Award nod this week for Best Female Lead.

    G. Merritt ...more info