First time I saw this movie, I found it awkward. I wasn't sure what to expect from it. Once I saw the name ''Alan Ball'', I had to know what to expect yet it still managed to surprise me. A movie set in the 1990s on the edge of the first gulfwar about racism and young kids growing up with terrible parents. Really an unconventional movie worth your attention.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
For those who take their humor blackJan. 16 2009
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From the moment Thomas Newman's soundtrack opens the film, you know you are in the dark suburban underworld of Alan Ball. Much like Six Feet Under, Towelhead explores dysfunctional family relationships as experienced through the eyes of a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl.
Many of Ball's familiar themes are present here - sexual awakenings, sexual deviance, abusive families - and as usual he handles the themes with an uncomfortable sensitivity. There are plenty of moments which you'd rather not be sharing with the troubled characters, but the film compels you to watch.
The film medium perhaps suits Ball's subject matter better than TV. Where Six Feet Under often threatened to destabilize its credibility with the implausible bad luck that his central characters endured, Towelhead manages to maintain its focus, offering up a tenderly traumatic, and darkly humorous story of Jasira's coming of age into an increasingly sexualized world.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
one of 2008's best filmsJan. 8 2009
Roland E. Zwick
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Tough Subject, Some Clumsy Handling, but Fine ActingJan. 4 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
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
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Save The Children??Feb. 6 2009
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I can see how a movie like this can be polarizing (much like Terry Gilliam's Tideland which was similarly criticized for it's "child abuse") but it's a very sweet film, very emotional and effective. It's a story of a little girl who is so neglected by her parents that she reacts to the innapropriate advances of an older man because he is providing the perceived "positive" attention and affection that she is so desperately seeking. She is bullied by her parents/schoolmates and abused by her adult male neighbor. It is sad what happens to her but I found her character entirely relatable and beautiful.
So, much in the same way that the father in this film inadvertenly fails to protect his daughter by being simultaneously overprotective and absent, I am so annoyed with reviewers that criticize this film, not because they didn't like it, but because "it's sick" or "child porn" or some such nonsense. It's the parents who crusade the most against what "the children" can see that most need to be engaging their children in conversation to see what's happening in their children's lives and truly help them instead of trying to shelter them from real facts about life!
This should be required viewing for all 13 year old girls (and their parents).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An excellent movie but one you probably won't want to see againFeb. 23 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
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.