Towelhead (Alan Ball, 2007)

It’s a thirteen year old Lebanese-American girl having her sexual awakening amidst racism, her strict Lebanese father, lecherous neighbor, and other colorful characters.  That alone makes for an awkward movie, and indeed Alan Ball pulls no punches, getting right down to the nitty-gritty of Jasira discovering the joys of nudie mags and masturbation, sexual encounters with her Army reservist neighbor and sexually curious schoolmate, and her first period for good measure (hell, the only extreme the movie doesn’t seem to go to is actually showing Jasira completely in the buff, though it comes awfully close).  It’s really sleazy, and I felt like I needed to take a shower just watching it, though I guess that’s the point, showing how deep the concepts of sexual ideals have penetrated our minds and putting us in the role of the voyeur.  If I want to be cast in the role of voyeur and take a look at my own sense of guilt, I’ll watch “Blue Velvet” or “Peeping Tom,” movies that are just as uncomfortable to watch as this but are actually profound in shining the mirror of guilt in your face and are actually superb pieces of filmmaking. 

When it’s not trying to shock you, “Towelhead’s” got some of the most blatant clichés and contrivances, like, ever.  The hollow, racist students at school (are insults like towelhead and sandn***er really supposed to shock us by now?); the prototypically stifling Lebanese father; the prototypically creepy, lustful neighbor, played by Aaron “Two-Face” Eckhart as slimily as possible; Jasira’s fuck-buddy with a heart of gold (who her father disapproves of, of course, for being black); the hip, kind newlywed neighbors who rescue Jasira like they’re her knights in shining armor, lecturing her (and us) on why rape is wrong and why women shouldn’t be objectified; and of course Jasira herself, who might as well be the sexual apex of the universe the way the film focuses on her obsession with sex and orgasms, and every single character’s sex-based obsession with her, to no end.  Curious how Alan Ball, just a few years removed from writing the great suburban satire “American Beauty,” tries to shock us and make us feel sleazy/guilty by showing us the details of Jasira’s sexual awakening, and at the same time pander down to us and lecture us with hollow caricatures and contrived clichés.  Sleazy and contrived is a bad mix.  This movie’s just plain rotten and ill-conceived.

4.5/10

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3 comments so far

  1. Allison on

    Considering this movie was based on the novel of a girl who was actually called some of those “blatant clichés and contrivances”. I’m sorry you missed the message and that you’re recommending this movie to would-be pedophiles. Not cool.

  2. Simon M. on

    oh, i got the message alright, because Alan Ball was shoving it down my throat with sex scene after sex scene, lecture after lecture. If this movie had had even one iota of subtlety, it could’ve stood a chance of living up to its potential. Instead it’s just cliched, banal satire that’s trying to be edgy but is really just gross.

  3. Allison on

    What’s gross is people’s reception to this movie. I want to include it on my top 10 films of the yaer.


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