Towelhead

Be prepared to be shocked when watching Alan Ball’s feature-length directorial debut. The unflinchingly dark creator of HBO’s Six Feet Under, True Blood, and writer of the Oscar-winning film American Beauty, Ball went straight for the jugular with Towelhead, hoping to mix things up a little bit.  And that, he certainly does.

Towelhead is based on the novel of the same name by Alicia Erian (an interesting name for the author of such a racially charged work).  The book, as well as the film, explores the blooming sexuality of a 13-year-old Arab girl, Jasira (Summer Bishil) during the time of the gulf war.  She’s the child of divorce, sent to live with her father in Houston (who has no idea how to deal with her), and must deal with his racism (her father forbids her to see her boyfriend since he is black).  In addition to a difficult home life, she must deal with the racism of the surrounding community and the disturbing sexual interest of gulf war veteran, and married neighbor, Vuoso (played so terrifically well by Aaron Eckhart).

The more intimate scenes between Bishil and Eckhart will make you more than a little uncomfortable and you’ll often be squirming in your seat.  Even though Bishil was nineteen at the time of filming, she could pass for thirteen any day.  The cast gives one terrific performance after another.

The first time I saw Towelhead was at Sundance earlier this year.  At that time, the MPAA hadn’t reared its ugly head yet, so the film enjoyed the glory of not being rated.  I’m guessing, however, that in order to keep an R rating, Ball was forced to cut a few things before it’s this week on the 26th.

Despite the obvious effort to shock, no one can deny that Ball has the skills to back up these provocations, and despite being a little shook up upon leaving the theater, you’ll also be quite pleased with this thought provoking piece.

★★★☆

Rottentomatoes: 49%Cream of the Crop: 50% (These numbers will most certainly change after the wide-release)

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