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|Index||60 reviews in total|
Just left the Sundance premier. They changed the title back to
Towelhead, kind of a harsh turn-off while choosing a movie, but I guess
that was the name of the semi- autobiographical novel. The author was
present and looks well recovered from her childhood.
I can see why many reviewers hate this movie. It's cringe-worthy to watch the sexual awakening of a pubescent teen, when her parents and other important adults are childishly self-centered, in contrast to her own childlike innocence, honesty and vulnerability. That contrast and that cringe are what make it real and relevant. An unnerving part of the story is that the protagonist is never a victim. She is too inexperienced and too unmentored to act in what an adult would consider her own best interest, at least at first. But, she never participates in anything against her will. She is never denied her freedom, at least no one who tries to restrict her has the will and persistence to succeed for long. Hers is not to suffer, then be redeemed and live happily ever after. Hers is to introduce sex into her life this way, then go on.
Regarding the mechanics of the movie, it is explicit, but not graphic. Viewers hoping for teen porn will be disappointed, body parts stay covered or concealed by camera angles.
The story engages all types of Americans around this kid's ambivalent choices, a socially liberal me-generation mom, a conservative Christian Arab Dad, right-wing white Christian neighbors, liberal social activist neighbors, a middle class black friend, and a Latina mom- figure who mistakes her of one of her own. The acting is great. As one would expect, there's lots of room for humor. Once over the cringing,if you did get over it, it was an engaging and thought-provoking movie.
This is one odd, disturbing, strange little movie that is as seductive
as it is uncomfortable to watch. The ensemble cast is a standout but
Summer Bishil absolutely steals this one by delivering an amazingly
adult performance of an almost impossible role, and Peter Macdissi, as
her father, is also excellent with a heavily nuanced complex character.
I'd also like to point out this movie has more WTF moments than anything I've seen in recent memory.
Another thing I was struck with is just how commonplace, how "normal" the events in this girl's life appear, and that is even more disturbing.
I'd like to close by saying this movie will not be enjoyed by everyone, nor will it be understood by everyone. This is a major piece of film-making and a major piece of storytelling, though, and if you don't mind extremes, definitely give this one a try.
How Can You Find Yourself if No One Can See You?
Plot: A young Arab-American girl struggles with her sexual obsession, a bigoted Army reservist and her strict father during the Gulf War.
I got really, really, but I mean, really lucky to catch this at the Deauville American Film Festival. Can you imagine it? I flew all over to France to see Alan Ball's new movie. Well, I did it. Anyway, Nothing is Private (or Towelhead, as it is called now) is the new film written for the screen, produced and directed by Alan Ball and based upon the novel Towelhead by Alicia Erian. Some people say this movie is a porno and that is sick. But, I can, proudly, compare it with "American Beauty" (also one of my favourite movies, also). You can call me whatever you want and say that I'm nuts, but that's my point of view.
The film is set on the year 1991 on the Gulf War. When I first read the novel I thought: Well, this doesn't looks like a book that no one will ever adapt to the cinema. But, when I saw the film I thought: Oh, my God! What a great adaptation of the book. And, besides, I really loved American Beauty. And it has beautiful and hauntingly dark screenplay, intelligent direction and superb performances. I mean, Summer Bishil's performance is one of the most unforgettable ones of the last decade. Some may find it offencive, but you have to have an open mind to watch this. The most sexually explicit and disturbing movie I've ever seen since Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut'. I correct; since Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Dreamers'. When you first watch this you feel like gut-punched. But, if you can get over the whole movie, and you have an open mind, you'll enjoy and love it. This is a true masterpiece. I believe that with the direction, with the screenplay and with the performances, this will get more than one Academy Award.
Verdict: One of the most daring, talking on a mature sexual way, movies of the last 50 years. Stunningly satirical and darkly and shockingly disturbing. A sexist teenage satire on the style of 'Juno' and 'Ghost World'. A superb drama. Simply, a Great Movie. Quite disturbing, not recommended to people that doesn't have an open criterion.
Nothing Is Private. Warner Independent Pictures. 2008. 116 min. UK: No Certificate. US: R. Written for the screen and directed by Alan Ball. Based upon the novel Towelhead by Alicia Erian. Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishil, Maria Bello and Toni Collette.
Alan Ball's TOWELHEAD is as dark, and biting as American BEAUTY, but
with a different slant as a young girl begins to experience the reality
of life growing up in the suburbs of America. The cast is superb, the
young actor, Summer Bishil, is tremendous in her role, and the film and
story resonate with a young girl wanting to be accepted for who she is,
but instead has to face incidents which would impale another young
TOWELHEAD deals with prejudice, a multicultural American society that faces Iraq, and other issues, along with the sexuality of young men and women. This film has been lambasted for the sexual themes which it addresses, but in fact is a real picture into what youth must deal with in America today. The writing is crisp, brilliant and the characters and cast bring alive the story with incredible energy. Living in Southern California, I see TOWELHEAD as an important film for an audience to see and discuss for their children and families. Once again, Alan Ball has delivered a brilliant and thought provoking, and very controversial film of substance and value.
Even at the tender young age of 13, the strikingly beautiful Jasira
seems destined to go through life igniting the passions of the men and
boys around her. A product of a mixed marriage (her mother is white,
her father Lebanese) and a broken home, she lives with her strict,
traditionalist dad in a Texas suburb during the time of the first Gulf
War. Though shy by nature, Jasira seems wise beyond her years when it
comes to exploring her burgeoning sexuality. Like many girls her age,
she dreams of one day becoming a famous model like the ones she sees in
fashion magazines or on billboards around town. Yet, despite the
sternness and rigidity of her father, Jasira winds up getting involved
with both a black boy at school and the middle-aged family man who
lives two doors down.
With "Towelhead," writer/director Alan Ball returns to the theme of simmering suburban eroticism that he explored so effectively in "American Beauty" and "Six Feet Under." Indeed, it's safe to say that "Towelhead" is possibly the most perceptive, frank and intelligent exploration of teenage sexuality I've ever seen on film. Somehow Ball has managed to take a subject that could easily have become exploitative and sensationalistic and turned into a moving and compassionate tale of flawed individuals who, despite the fact that they may mean well, often act in ways that cause serious harm to others. As is true of every teen, Jasira is naturally curious about her body and intrigued by that secret, forbidden world of pleasure to which only grownups seem somehow privy. The trouble is that Jasira is surrounded by adults who provide her with either weak or contradictory guidance, or who can't control their own urges long enough to think about the harm they might be inflicting on others with their actions. On a broader scale, Ball questions how modern teens can be expected to make wise decisions about sex when they are routinely bombarded with mixed messages from a culture that is both highly sexualized and highly puritanical at one and the same time. Often times, we get the sense that Jasira is using her new found sexuality - without yet fully understanding the powerful effect it is having on the males around her - to fill an emotional void in her life, a void caused by a mother and a father who are so caught up in their own lives that they have little left over for their daughter. To a somewhat lesser extent, the movie also touches on the racism that exists in not only the white culture but the nonwhite culture as well. For while Jasira is being taunted by the kids at school for her dark skin (even though many assume she is Mexican), her own father is forbidding her to date a black boy who has taken a romantic interest in her.
Ball has populated his story (based on the novel by Alicia Erian) with a rich array of complex, multi-dimensional characters, each one a unique and closely observed individual. Beyond the intriguing Jasira, there is her hot-tempered father who, in his own, perhaps clumsy, way clearly loves his daughter but who is so bound in by the traditions of his culture that he can't even begin to understand what is going on in her heart. There is the kind, pragmatic next door neighbor who keeps her eye on the girl and extends the hand of friendship when it is needed most. And, finally, there is the older man caught between what he knows is right and his compelling need to seduce a child young enough to be his own daughter. Ball makes it clear that none of these characters is a hero or a villain, that life is simply too messy and complex a business for us to be assigning such roles to individuals. Yet, he clearly acknowledges that there is such a thing as going over the line, and that adults need to understand that their own desires should never be fulfilled at the expense of others more vulnerable than themselves.
Summer Bishil is heartbreaking and utterly believable as young Jashira, while Peter Macdissi infuses both a sense of menace and a strangely offbeat humor into the role of her hardnosed, dogmatic father. Toni Collete is her usual first rate self as the older woman who takes Jasira under her wing, offering her the kind of guidance her actual parents seem either unwilling or unable to provide for her. As the neighbor who seduces Jasira, Aaron Eckhart brings a great deal of courage, subtlety and restraint to one of the trickiest roles imaginable for an actor. Eckhart is obviously secure in the conviction that the audience will be mature enough to see the humanity in his character even while feeling disgust at his actions.
In fact, that's pretty much the way it is with the entire film. There are some who will be instantly turned off by the highly sensitive nature of the subject matter. But, true artist that he is, Ball has been able to transcend the sleaze to provide us with a heartbreaking human drama that, by touching on the universal, is able to strike a chord of familiarity in the audience.
Put simply, "Towelhead" is one of the very best films of 2008.
I was fortunate to view this movie in a cinema in the same weekend as I
saw a stage performance of Moliere's "The Learned Ladies" and a DVD of
"Memoirs of a Geisha". All three deal with the reaction of girls on the
brink of womanhood who react in different ways to the pressures society
has placed on them. Moliere was a favorite of Louis XIV in 1670, and
his treatment of these pressures is remarkably pertinent to out own
times. His play is instructive, as is "Towelhead". By drawing attention
to the girls' problems, these dramas are warning us of the way society
is treating young women. They are victims. Moliere uses farce and
poetry, "Towelhead" uses conflict and some wry humor. The Geisha
endures a life of conflict with no comic relief. All three shows
produce the same message: don't let this happen to you. "Towelhead" is
reputed to be autobiographical, and "Geisha" would appear to be so.
"Towelhead" is distinguished by some clever cinematography, let down perhaps by some careless editing. Nevertheless, the actors' performances are excellent, with most of the cast in roles that reveal them as childish. The drama unfolds not by having them grow up, but by having the protagonist mature and become decisive, just as did Moliere's girl did. There is an outstanding performance by Toni Collette as the pregnant neighbor who plays an important part in the youngster's maturing.
Alan Ball steps on familiar yet virgin territory in more ways than one.An American suburb with the look and feel of a populated desert. American flags and neighboring spirits. Summer Bishil surfs uncannily the waves of her puberty. Innocence and awareness. Curiosity, excitement and fear. She has extraordinary moments as her father played by a superb Peter MacDissi marks and signs his territory with ancestral laws and American longings. A terrifying living contradiction. This time bomb of a man is the most realistic caricature I've ever seen. Played for real with frightening earnestness. There is also Aaron Eckhart who proves, once more, he's one of the most fearless actors around. His performance is as brilliant as it is uncomfortable to watch. I recommend it if you're in the mood for a couple of hours of gasps and nervous laughter.
"Towelhead" is an incredibly honest and sincere movie. It tells its
story without pretense, without agenda, and without b.s.
Looking at the IMDb reviews and ratings, it appears that not everyone enjoys this movie. If you are made uncomfortable by the honest portrayal of adolescent sexuality, racism, sexism, bad parenting, sexual assault, and sexual predation, then you will not enjoy this movie.
If you are like myself and my wife, and you feel that dealing with the life of a young woman torn between cultures and divorced parents, objectified by a society that also rejects her, and as confused and eager and scared of her own sexuality as every young teen has ever been, then you feel this is one of the best films of the year.
But not everyone is going to be comfortable with honesty. I found it to be a wonderful breath of fresh air. Others will be made uncomfortable and will then make up reasons to dislike it. I even read a review by someone who somehow thought that the villain of the story, the clear, obvious villain, was the hero.
Towelhead's themes of racism, sexual development and the horrors that
lie in the dark abyss of suburbia basically come down to one thing:
stereotyping. The film goes through many different lives and stories,
all through the eyes of 13-year old Jasira (played with great bravery
and intelligence by Summer Bishil). Through her eyes we see how
everyone around her is just stereotyped immediately by the people
living in this world and even by the audience. The aggressive
Arab-American, the ignorant redneck pedophile, the horny black
teenager, the pregnant hippie, etc. All of these typical characters are
alive in this world and while they do have some of the characteristics
that you would expect from the stereotypes of the character, Alan Ball
does a good job of making them more diverse, complex and simply human
than you would expect.
There were some things I really liked and some that I really didn't like. It all felt kind of awkward to me, but I think that helped the themes of the story in a way. Either way, Aaron Eckhart gave a really fantastic performance. He uses that boyish charm and those unimaginably handsome looks to make a horrifically despicable character borderline likable until his final scenes. One of those performances where you know that he's only going to bring horrible things to the main character's life and he makes you so uneasy when he's in a room alone with her, but you can't take your eyes off of him. A truly fascinating performance. I really think he's one of the very best actors working today. Peter Macdissi and Summer Bishil were also great, just a little less-so than Eckhart.
The uncomfortable, sick and disturbing elements of this film will either make you cringe or laugh guiltily. I found the dark humor to be very funny, and it reminded me a bit of 'Happiness'. Aaron Eckhart was fantastic in this in what must surely be seen as quite a dangerous career choice. But all the actors were equally as brilliant, notably the lead girl who played Jazeera. This film is a great exploration of how parents and adults mess with their children's heads, as well as brutal and graphic portrayal of an adolescents coming to terms with her sexuality. Excellent performances, great script and an overall brilliant film.
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