Towelhead

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towelheadWriter/director Alan Ball is probably more well known as the writer, producer, and creator of HBOs Six Feet Under. His only other film was the screenplay for American Beauty.

In this story, he takes us to middle-America, and gives us a story dealing with racism, abuse, molestation, and all that with touches of dark humor. It’s easily one of the most disturbing experiences I’ve ever had watching a film.

It’s based on the best-selling novel by Alicia Erian, and it takes play around the time of the first Gulf War. A liberal couple (Matt Letscher and Toni Collette from Sixth Sense) live between a Lebanese family and an Army reservist, played by Aaron Eckhart. I didn’t think I’d ever see a character more creepy and manipulative than the one he played in In the Company of Men. I didn’t realize when I did finally see a worse character, he’d be playing him!

The Lebanese father Rifat, is a strict man, played wonderfully by Peter Macdissi. His daughter is the 13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil). She has a growing crush on Eckhart, and he seems to been grooming her for a relationship. He does the stuff we’ve read about pedophiles doing – let’s her see pornographic magazines – but it’s done in a way that’s rather shocking. You see, he doesn’t just break them out. It’s when she asks questions. When she jokes with him about something that’s rather inappropriate, he encourages it.

There’s a scene where he touches her that will make you sick to your stomach, but ya know what? You should really have the same feeling when he takes her out to dinner and lets her sip some alcoholic. He talks to her in a way that makes her feel like she’s on an adult date, and all that should be almost as disturbing.

We realize how easy it would be for an adult male who wanted to do something like this, to play it as if the girl was controlling how this relationship was developing. This is dark subject matter that will really turn off a lot of people. There’s also a lot that people will think is gratuitous. I think for this film to work, it needed to be done exactly as it was here.

A side story involves Jasira getting involved with a boy at her school a lot more age appropriate. The father disapproves of that, because the boy’s black. Toni Collette is more encouraging of that relationship, and even has them over for dinner. Collette also    suspects her neighbor of being up to no good. Yet just like in real life, you can’t call the cops based on speculation or what somebody intends to do.

It’s also interesting that Jasira was written is one smart cookie, yet that still doesn’t make her a match for an adult that knows how to play with her emotions. It can also be emotionally draining to watch, knowing that the two adult males in her life are such awful people. You want Collette to come in and adopt her.

The film can get a bit heavy-handed at times, but it’s just what I want in a movie. It has great performances from the entire cast, and it has me thinking…long after I left the theatre. In fact, I’ll probably think about this movie years from now.

It had the vibe of a Todd Solondz picture (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse), but with a lot less humor.

I’m giving it a B.

(side note: I was so disturbed by some of the scenes, I wanted to see what age the 13-year-old girl was. Summer Bishil is a 19-year-old actress.)