Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Eugene Jones, Matt Letscher, Chase Ellison, Gemmenne de la Pena, Lynn Collins, Carrie Preston, Irina Voronina
Written by: Alan Ball, based on a novel by Alicia Erian
Directed by: Alan Ball
MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing sexual content and abuse involving a young teen, and for language
Running Time: 124
Date: 09/08/2007
IMDB

Towelhead (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Culture Crash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Oscar winning screenwriter Alan Ball (American Beauty) returns to the big screen for only his second outing (after a successful stint with his TV series "Six Feet Under"), and takes a directing credit besides. Adapted from Alicia Erian's 2005 novel, Towelhead uses many of the same tones and themes as Ball's first film, but with much more explosive, sensitive material. And while American Beauty clicked with its snarky representations of spoiled suburbanites, Towelhead doesn't work nearly as well, begging for a more consistent take and a more delicate treatment. The main character is Jasira (newcomer Summer Bishil) a young teen whose white mother (Maria Bello) sends her to live with her Lebanese father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi). Rifat is a cartoon character, a blatant hypocrite who believes he's one up on everyone -- although it's possible that Macdissi had the right idea by taking the material into the absurd, whereas everyone else plays it straight. Jasira gets a job babysitting for a younger boy next door. The boy's father, Army reservist Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart) becomes entranced by her, and proceeds to worm his way into her life. Jasira's budding sexuality and her early experiences with orgasms and periods cause her to view Mr. Vuoso as a genuine companion. She also begins seeing a black boy from school, which sends her father into a tizzy. Jasira ends up staying with her liberal, hippie neighbors (Toni Collette and Matt Letscher). Ball has some kind of soapbox agenda here involving prejudice, sexuality and the first Gulf War (the movie takes place during the first Bush presidency), but he also wants to demonstrate his snarky remove from the material, and his penchant for condescending comedy. Towelhead is a mess, and it's based on material that demanded precision.

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