Neil Miller

Review: Towelhead

Features By Neil Miller on September 12, 2008 | (2) Comments

Editors Note: This review of Towelhead was written at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. We have reposted it due to Towelhead’s theatrical review on September 12th.

Ok, I was wrong. I know that I said yesterday that nothing clears out a room full of stuffy movie critics like some graphic sexual deviance. That was just Downloading Nancy. Today, we all caught a glimpse of Towelhead, a new sexual rite of passage drama from Alan Ball (American Beauty). It is clear to me in the wake of this film that Ball returned to the form to deliver us a film that will make us uncomfortable, but is also deeply entertaining.

The story of a young half-Lebanese girl (Summer Bishil) whose mother (Maria Bello) doesn’t think she is growing up properly, so she sends her away to live with her father (Peter Macdissi). Once she arrives, she begins to experience the throws of puberty and is forced to deal with her own sexual passage into adulthood while living with a strict father. As she deals with her budding sexuality combined with her growing curiosity about what she is feeling, she encounters a host of odd people in her new town. One of whom is the bigoted, perverse Army reservist (Aaron Eckhart) who lives two doors down with his wife and son. But when she becomes a little to friendly with him, he takes advantage of her, setting her off on a journey through sexual obsession and deviance unlike anything you would ever expect from a 13 year old girl.

At times it can be a very uncomfortable movie to sit through, much like American Beauty before it. As he did previously, writer/director Alan Ball explores some sexual themes that are tough for most people to endure, such as child molestation and pre-teenage sex, but he does so with a great amount of style and grace. The themes are there, but the filmmaker never crosses the line into being inappropriate. American Beauty had more nudity, but in my opinion, Towelhead carries heavier themes and a more disturbing theme.

Yet, just because it deals with some pretty fucked up themes, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be funny at times and lighthearted as others. Alan Ball won his Oscar based on his ability to put us at ease with such situations in American Beauty and Towelhead is in that same vain. The performances are equally as impressive as well. Peter Macdissi (Three Kings) is absolutely fantastic as the father. He shows the ability to take his character from goofy to overbearing and demanding so quickly, giving him a depth that is very rare. While the story centers around the girl’s relationship with her own sexuality, the relationship between her and her father is the most compelling. Aaron Eckhart is also very good in a role that is somewhat risky as a pedophile. You don’t necessarily see it coming, but he pulls it off quite well.

That’s the theme throughout the entire cast. Young Summer Bishil, Maria Bello and Toni Collette (who plays the girl’s other, more nurturing and protective neighbor) are all great in their roles. It just goes to show, as is always the case, if you combine a solid cast with a great script from an immensely talented director then you are going to have a film worth watching — even if it is about a 13-year old girl’s sexual deviance.

Grade: A


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