In Houston at the time of the first Gulf War, Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13 year old Arab-American girl struggles with her sexual obsession, a bigoted Army reservist (Aaron Eckhart) and her strict father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi), who is divorced from her mother Gail (Maria Bello). Sent to stay with her father, Jasira discovers girlie magazines through a neighbour, and begins to experiment sexually, finding in the process that she has no control and no experience with which to handle all that she triggers, leading to severe complications for all.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Towelhead is the slang racist epithet applied by some Americans to Arabs, with about equal ignorance and inaccuracy. But this is not the central theme of Towelhead, which is based on a novel titled Nothing Is Private. The latter is a more accurate approximator of the subject matter, echoing as it does a phrase shouted in anger by Lebanese American Rifat (Peter Macdissi) at his 13 year old daughter Jasira (Summer Bishil), when she tries to defend her privacy against his fatherly intrusion. Rifat is played as a conflicting set of Lebanese and Western mores, without the genuine warmth of a father and often stretching credibility in the various decisions he makes, from a Greek mistress to his ultra-strict traditionalist views on women. He also has serious anger issues and a confused view of the world around him, none of which blends as enjoyable screen drama in this case.
This is the story of a 13 year old girl's sexual coming of age in a broken home where neither parent is of any use whatever, in a Houston suburban house where her father's hypocritical morality and Jasira's uncertainty combine to make everyone unhappy. And mostly unlikeable - with the notable exception of Toni Collette's pregnant Melina, and her husband Gil, Matt Letscher, neighbours who play a small but important role in Jasira's story.
Jasira, played with often silent, sullen expressions by Summer Bishil which eventually grow irritating, is not as unlikeable as her parents and the other neighbours, the Vuoso family (Aaron Eckhart, Lynn Collins and the son Chase Ellison), but neither does she endear herself to us, no matter how sweet she looks. Adding to the viewing discomfort is excessive camera attention to the issues about her periods, and the stilted direction which leaves no tone untried.
As a story, Jasira's deflowering and surrounding socialisation issues perhaps make for top reading, but as the film turns a mental image into concrete visuals, it requires much greater finesse to make it cinema.
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AKA Nothing Is Private
CAST: Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishill
PRODUCER: Ted Hope, Alan Ball
DIRECTOR: Alan Ball
SCRIPT: Alan Ball (novel Nothing Is Private by Alicia Erian)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Newton Thomas Sigel
EDITOR: Andy Keir
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Chinlund
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 9, 2008