Archives / 2008 Sundance Film Festival

Towelhead

Director: Alan Ball

Screenwriters: Alan Ball

Institute History

  • 2008 Sundance Film Festival

Description

In his feature directorial debut, Six Feet Under creator and American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball once again unearths the dirty secrets lurking beneath the wholesome façade of suburban America. He digs even deeper here, upping the ante from powerfully provocative to seriously disturbing. A brilliant storyteller, Ball grasps the humanity in the creepiest, most despicable characters, deftly juggling humor, satire, and pathos.

Set in Desert Storm–era 1980s, Towelhead, based on the novel by Alicia Erian, explores the sexual awakening of Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13-year-old Arab American girl and only child of a Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi) and American mother (Maria Bello). Jasira is shipped off to live with her strict racist dad in Houston after Mom’s boyfriend helps her shave her bikini area. Turns out that beautiful young Jasira is a man magnet. Her ripening sexuality becomes the troubling obsession of both her adult neighbor, a redneck Army reservist (Aaron Eckhart), and her horny African American boyfriend (Eugene Jones). Nosy, pregnant neighbor Melina (Toni Collette) tries to protect Jasira from the wolves.

Towelhead captures the simmering anti-Arab sentiment that came to a boil after 9/11. Eckhart, Bello, and Collette shine in nuanced performances. Macdissi is both frightening and hilarious as a doggedly patriotic American immigrant. But in the final analysis, it’s luminous young Summer Bishil's star-making performance that will have Hollywood wolves salivating.

— David Courier

Screening Details

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