Towelhead

Yes, that Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty, the creator of HBO's Six Feet Under and now True Blood, a sizzling new series about contemporary vampires getting by on synthetic red stuff. Ball, bless him, goes for the real jugular. Towelhead, adapted from Alicia Erian's novel, is Ball's debut as a feature director. And once again he's out there stirring things up. Set at the time of the Gulf War, the movie feeds on shocks, often just for the sake of dropping jaws. Mission accomplished. Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13-year-old Arab girl, is a child of divorce. Her American mother (Maria Bello) has a lover who shaves Jasira's pubic hair, prompting mom to send daughter off to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese dad, Rifat (Peter Macdissi). Though Rifat is a citizen working for NASA and eager to see Saddam get his, the neighbors regard him as alien. The racist brigade includes the married Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), an Army reservist waiting to be called up but not waiting to act on his attraction to Jasira, who baby-sits his son. Eckhart, so good in The Dark Knight, is an exceptional actor who digs deep into the child-man that is Vuoso. But his intimate scenes with the amazing Bishil, 19 at the time of filming, are squirm-inducing. The heart of the movie is really in Jasira's moments with her father, a mass of contradictions that Macdissi plays with comic ferocity and genuine feeling. Ball throws out so many provocations in Towelhead that it's no surprise a few land with a thud. But there's no questioning his talent for filmmaking. He's got the gift.

From The Archives Issue 300: September 20, 1979
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