Film Reviews

TOWELHEAD

By • Sep 25th, 2008 •

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Shocking, then powerful.

Screenwriter (adapting the novel by Alicia Erian) and director Alan Ball knows what is going on in your household or your neighbor’s house.

In a study done recently, from 34% to 65% of girls aged 5 years had ideas about dieting. And here are the statistics from Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies: 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner, 45% of boys and girls in grades 3-6 want to be thinner, 37% have already dieted, 51% of 9-10 year old girls feel better about themselves when dieting, 9% of 9 year olds have vomited to lose weight and, the #1 wish of girls 11-17 years old is to lose weight.

Female children are under enormous pressure to be sexual, provocative, and alluring. There are bras for 8-year-old girls and, I assume, bras for toddlers.

With Hollywood starlets and A-list actresses going “commando”, which actress hasn’t been photographed getting out of a car showing off her hairless genitals? Having any pubic hair is an international fashion high crime. For men as well, most notably, gay icon David Beckham in that Calvin Klein advert and W photo spread. So it is not surprising that 13-year-old Arab-American Jasira (19-year-old Summer Bishil) feels embarrassed by her hairiness. Jasira should have a better relationship with her American blond mother Gail (Maria Bello), but it is her mother’s younger boyfriend who gets to shave the hair creeping out of Jasira’s bathing suit.

When Gail finds out, Jasira is shipped off to Houston to live with her Lebanese father, Rifat (the mesmerizing Peter Macdissi). It’s the 1980’s and Bush the First is getting ready to attack Iraq. Rifat, who has just moved into an upper-class white neighborhood, feels compelled to loudly express his total Americanization while holding fast to his Lebanese moral roots when it comes to his daughter.

The entire cast is fantastic but it is Macdissi who has created a unique, fully- realized character. He is perfect. This is the perfect supporting role. You want more of him. You sympathize with Rifat since he is clearly struggling to assimilate. It’s hard to do, with everyone thinking he is a Saddam loyalist. In a terrific, wordless litany of expression, when Rifat’s neighbor Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart) raises an American flag, he takes it as an insult. He raises an American flag on his front lawn.

Mr. Vuoso! How absolutely brave of Eckhart to take this role. It’s a shocking character and Eckhart does not sneak in one moment of redemption. I’ll never forgive Jeremy Irons for making Humbert Humbert a misunderstood mensch.

Mr. Vuoso, an Army reservist with a nasty 10 year-old and 50’s era wife, takes a sudden interest in Jasira when he catches her reading skin magazines with his son. Jasira tells him that looking at the nude photos of women gives her orgasms. We know that drives him crazy with desire.

Now Jasira is having orgasms at school, at home, and babysitting Mr. Vuoso’s son. Ridiculed at school for being a “towelhead”, she is befriended by a black student, Thomas (Eugene Jones). Rifat goes ballistic!

Bishil, Eckhart, Toni Collette as Jasira’s next door neighbor, are terrific. Clearly, Bello’s role is the most problematic and under-developed. We don’t quite understand Gail’s relationship with her daughter, but we can see that her marriage to Rifat was doomed from the start and now he’s like an uncle to her.

TOWELHEAD doesn’t give up. It starts with the bikini shaving and just escalates from there. This is as honest and frank as a movie can get.

Ball’s AMERICAN BEAUTY was considered strong stuff, but TOWELHEAD goes way beyond it. I’m watching Ball’s HBO vampire series “True Blood” but never watched “Six Feet Under”. Unfortunately, keeping the title of the novel might diminish the box office, but this is one powerful film that should not be missed. You have been warned.

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