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Local, Movie Reviews

Towelhead

September 25, 2008 /  by  
 

Alan Ball’s feature directing debut is an edgy and biting look at suburbia and the coming of age story of a young girl in this awkward and interesting environment.
Jasira is a Lebanese/White girl who lives with her mom in Syracuse, and after a shaving incident with her Mom’s boyfriend; she decides to ship her off to Texas to be with her father for awhile. Jasira’s father Rifat (Peter Macdissi) and her stand out a bit in suburban Texas and the hurdles they must overcome because of race are a plenty. To throw another curveball into the mix, Jasira is an extremely sexually interested thirteen years old and the conservative roots of her lineage that come out through her father are bound to create issue. Throw into the mix a sleazy neighbor with racist undertones that might be into Jasira and a watchdog neighbor couple that will do anything to keep Jasira away from him and any sort of trouble and you have a recipe for intrigue, comedy, and plenty of awkward experiences.
The films original title was, Nothing is Private, and it is a shame they changed it as it is the perfect title for this film. Nothing is private here, and we are allowed into every facet of Jasira’s life, especially her sexual endeavors as she experiments with new ways to express herself in a sexual way. And fair warning to anyone who hasn’t grasped this yet, this films brand of humor and subject matter is definitely not for everyone, underage sex, masturbation, sexual predators, racism, and political positioning are all put on display here, and to surprisingly very funny effect. More than one middle-aged woman will utter, “oh my god” under her breath behind you while watching this, and the even more close minded will get up and leave. And that is their business, but they will be missing out on a sharply executed look into the world of suburbia that walks a fine line of taking things to the extreme, but never strays into the absurd or disgusting and feels extremely real and possible; and sadly much of this stuff we might laugh awkwardly at happens everyday.
And that is what this film does so well, it isn’t afraid to show us the way things are straight up. It has many characters that could easily fall into a stereotype that you just role your eyes at the unoriginality, but you don’t because they feel real, and these people are people you might be able to find on your street, and you can even sympathize and laugh at these people that might do something to disgust you only a few minutes before.
The cast is fantastic here, with Summer Bishil making a strong and powerful feature debut as the lead Jasira. She bravely sells on the awkward curiosity of Jasira, but also beams confidence through her. She is actually about 20 years old, but is totally believable as the younger age and makes you squirm at some of the things that happen around her. This film should get her some major work in Hollywood as she is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Peter Macdissi is an Alan Ball vet from Six Feet Under and he is fabulous as Jasira’s father. He perfectly captures this middle eastern man who carries these seemingly contradicting positions, he hates Bush and Sadam, holds on to some Islamic morals but is Christian, and has varying degrees of racism. He does his best work when he puts on a face for someone when in public, and once he is in his private environment he whips back to his true face on the matter. Macdissi is just fantastic here and makes you wish he was in more stuff today. Aaron Eckhart also turns in a solid performance perfectly walking that line of being super creepy but also being just an ordinary and real guy, while also participating in a few very awkward scenes as the film pans out. Toni Collette also does some good work here as the pregnant watch dog of the neighborhood, who forms an unlikely friendship with Jasira. There isn’t a weak link in the cast with Maria Bello making the most out of her brief time on screen and the couple of other kid actors doing great work as well.
The only things that don’t quite work for this picture is that its pacing is a bit off on occasion, and I think the film would be more appropriate set in today’s day and age, and not during the first gulf war. Alan Ball does a great job with the camera and the music and I can’t over state how well he walks that fine line to make everyone feel real and human even with things going on that some of us might find unbelievable.
Towelhead is a great dark, dark comedy that touches on many subjects not for everyone. Some will be appalled at the subject matter, but you need to lighten and open up and realize this kind of stuff happens, and while it might be inappropriate there is a story to be told here. Ball captures the awkwardness and humor of life so well here he can not deserve enough praise for keeping this film on track and not submitting to the easy path of just going to the extremes. Summer Bishil is fantastic and you owe it to her to see her great performance alone. If you’ve read this review, and you aren’t turned off by the subject matter yet, you will find this experience enjoyable and will be rewarded with one of the most original and daring comedies to come along in a while.
8.5/10