Sometimes films are just entertaining fluff, and sometimes they can be so much more. Some films can tear at your heart strings, and some can teach lessons in morality, that is exactly what Towelhead does. I had wanted to see this since it came out, and it was on my 300+ Netflix que, but I finally received it, and watched it last night. This is the kind of film that sticks with you for days. Leaving a grimy film on your skin, that numerous showers cannot wash off. But that is a good thing, as it makes you realize some of the predjuces that we all carry around, in some form, from day to day.
Summer Bishil plays Jesira Maroun, a half-american, half-lebanese 13 year old, and she is the film's tour de force. She adds a depth to the character that makes you want to reach out and grab her, and slap her at the same time. Jesira lives with her Mom, who definitely wouldn't win any Mother of the year awards. She makes Jesira move to Texas with her father, after her Mother finds out that her own boyfriend, has been helping Jesira shave her nether regions. This was brought on by taunting from classmates and calling her "chewbacca", when she wore a bathing suit. Jesira's father is a spectactle to behold, played campily by Peter Macdissi(Six Feet Under). He sticks to the old ways of his country, and doesn't allow Jesira to wear makeup, or have any of the acoutrements that a normal teenager has.
She is taunted in her new school with racial epiphets such as "towelhead", "sand nigger", and "camel jockey". She meets Thomas, a black boy, that is particularly enamoured with her. Needlees to say, Jesira's father will have nothing to do with this, as he says it will bring shame upon her. In the meantime, her redneck neighbor, Travis, who is married with a child, decides he has designs upon Jesira. The tragedy of this story, is that Jesira has no positive role models in her life, excluding the amazing Toni Collete, who plays her other neighbor, that acts as a surrogate Mother to her. Jesira is just discovering her body, and is a chronic self stimulator, and pleases herself wherever she goes, even at school! She revels in the sexuality provided to her in copies of "Palace" magazine, provided by her pedofile neighbor Travis(Aaron Eckhart).
The film, directed by Alan Ball, is very similar in tone to Todd Solondz's masterful "Welcome To The Dollhouse". It manages to capture the painful longings of adolescense with the country in war peril of the original Gulf War-era. Late 80's and early 90's pop hits provide a nostalgic background to help you relate to the film. It is seriously one of the most amazing films, that I have seen in a long time. If films that brutally capture the teen years, despite some pedofilic scenes, appeal to you, check this out. I had to keep in mind that Bishil was in reality 19 years old when the film was shot, to avoid feeling sickened by her sexual exploits.
Good films make you think, they shock you, and should leave a lasting impression. Towelhead does all of these things and more.