Towelhead – DVD Review

towelhead

Movie titles are an interesting thing. For example, if you had never seen a preview or if you had never read anything about the recent Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, you might think that its about cars. You would probably never guess that the film deals so much with racism. Everything about racism is explored in that film, every racial slur is hurdled about, but youd never guess from the title. The word towelhead itself is a racial slur, and for that to be the title of the film puts it out there quite blatantly that racism will be one of the main focuses of the film. Youd never guess that instead of racism, this film is about sex.

Jasira (newcomer Summer Bishil) is a thirteen-year-old half-Lebanese girl living with her white mother Gail (Maria Bello, Coyote Ugly, A History of Violence) in Syracuse, NY. The shocking opening scene sets the stage for what we are to expect for the rest of the movie as Gails live-in boyfriend slathers Jasiras upper thighs with shaving cream, about to shave her pubic hair. Outraged with Jasiras behavior and taking her boyfriends side, Gail sends blossoming Jasira to Houston, TX to live with her very strict Lebanese father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi , Olivier from Alan Balls Six Feet Under), so that she can learn how to act around men.

At her new home in Texas, Jasira is dealing with an Army reservist next door neighbor, Travis Vuoso, with a pedophile side (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking) while simultaneouly trying to develop a relationship with her new African American boyfriend Thomas (Eugene Jones, College Road Trip). Shes also gawking at some nudie mags that were given to her by Mr. Vuoso and learning how to masturbate. With all that going on in her life, she also has to hide everything from her father who believes that women should be silent, and that his developing daughter should be covered at all times. On top of all that, nosy neighbor Melina (Toni Collette Little Miss Sunshine, Muriels Wedding) suspects something is up with Jasira and is constantly keeping an eye on her.

This is a very frustrating film to watch. Not necessarily because of the shocking material (although there is definitely an icky feeling youll get while watching some of this), but because of many other factors. One main one is that there are no redeeming qualities about ANY of these characters. Jasira doesnt have one single adult in her life to look up to as a role model. Her mother, who comes to visit during Christmas, blames her for everything. Her father beats her, verbally berates her, and then leaves her home alone so he can go visit his girlfriend. Mr. Vuoso is trying to get in her pants, and his wife is a raging well, shes not a nice woman. The only people who are kind to Jasira are Melina and her husband Gil, who give her a key to their house in case she might need solace. But even they seem a little creeping and overbearing at first.

Jasira herself isnt exactly an angel. Every teen goes through their sexual awakening, so just about everything she does could be considered normal. For the first half of the movie, as we see all of these horrible situations Jasira is in, I felt sorry for her. It was right at the halfway mark, when Jasira is out on a date with Mr. Vuoso and is obviously leading him on and flirting with him even stealing his margarita when I stopped feeling any sort of compassion for her.

The only thing I liked about this movie was some of the acting. Aaron Eckharts performance is fantastic. Weve never seen him in a role like this. Hes a sweet-talking scumbag, but he delivers the best performance of the movie. Even Toni Collette, who I always love, seemed like she was phoning in her performance. She was supposed to be the sanctuary for Jasira, the one who shows her compassion, and she really didnt convey much of that at all. Poor Summer Bishil though. This is supposed to be her breakout performance? I just wish she had chosen a better film.

It seems as though Alan Ball is stuck on sex. Sex has been a primary focus of his with American Beauty and on Six Feet Under. But the shocking sexual situations worked for both of those because we came to care about the characters. Lester Burnham from American Beauty is going through a sexual awakening of his own. Hes a very flawed individual, yet we care about him and end up rooting for him. Brenda Chenowith from Six Feet Under battled sex addiction, and while there were times where her character was annoying, the audience was still able to connect with her. Heck, everyone on that show had some kind of sexual situation that they had to deal with, but thats not all they were about. Jasira is all about sex. Towelhead seems like an excuse for Alan Ball to write one uncomfortable sexual situation and then try to top each previous one for two hours.

Along with the films title being misleading, the trailer was misleading as well. It made the movie out to be a funny and touching coming of age story that also dealt with racism towards Muslims. Honestly, I was excited to see this movie. I wanted to see how Alan Ball, the writer of one of my personal Top 10 Films of all time and my favorite show of all time, would deal with all of these very relevant issues Towelhead, the sex movie with the racist title, was a big disappointment.

The disc is widescreen, in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

The only extras on the DVD are two roundtable discussions listed on the menu as Towelhead: A Community Discussion.

The first one has Alan Ball hosting, with stars of the film Peter Macdissi & Summer Bishil and also features Hussam Ayloush, who is with the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). In this, they all talk about racism in the film and in the title. Ayloush says the word “towelhead” is like the n-word and says that the Muslim community is not going to accept this film because of the title. This discussion is 30 minutes, 29 seconds long.

The second one has Alan Ball hosting, and features the author of the book of the same name Alicia Erian, and also features Rajdepp Singh Jolly, who is the legal director of SALDEF, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. This organization assists victims of hate crimes and discrimination. In this discussion, Jolly says that the title is simply a marketing ploy. He says that the word towelhead is offensive and is only being used to be controversial. Alan Ball retaliates and says that whenever a word is forbidden, it is given more power. This one is an interesting discussion because Jolly never conceedes, never backs down on his opinion. Ball and Erian try to sway him, but nothing works. This discussion is 50 minutes, 51 seconds long.

Also included are Previews for Snow Angels, Bam Margera’s Where the #$%* is Santa? and commercials for Tomb Raider: Underworld and Warner Home Video Blu-Ray.

This movie was just so disappointing for me. I had high hopes with the stellar cast and Alan Ball… This is a film made purely for the shock value. How much can we shock the audience? How much further can we push the envelope? Let’s offend every Muslim-American with the title, then offend every person on the planet with the content! If you want to see good examples of what Alan Ball can do, watch American Beauty or any episode of Six Feet Under. If you want to see a movie that really deals with the consequences of racism, go see Gran Torino. Just skip this. I can’t recommend it to anyone.

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Warner Home Video presents Towelhead. Directed by Alan Ball. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishil. Written by Alan Ball. Running time: 116 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: December 30, 2008. Available at Amazon.

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