From wayward Ball comes Crooked Sex

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Ashley Goetz

PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION

âÄúTowelheadâÄù Directed by: Alan Ball Starring: Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi, Toni Collette Rated: R Showing at: local theaters In âÄúTowelhead,âÄù the audience is forced to cringe. Witty, dark and extreme âÄî Alan BallâÄôs directorial film debut is all of these things âÄî yet the result is less than fulfilling. Many know Ball as the Academy Award-winning writer of âÄúAmerican BeautyâÄù and the creator of HBOâÄôs funeral parlor drama âÄúSix Feet Under.âÄù Audiences recognize his lopsided, eccentric characters and flashy plot turns; admirers appreciate BallâÄôs penchant for sculpting smart stories that donâÄôt bore but almost always titillate. Detractors criticize his staple theme âÄî sexual awakening âÄî and insist that BallâÄôs brand of story-building is forced and tactless, as though heâÄôs drawing barbaric cartoon-types rather than sensible humans. With âÄúTowelhead,âÄù based on the eponymous book by Alicia Erian, he has written and directed a work so unrestrained and guileless that it will leave many viewers uneasy. Those with stronger stomachs (and fewer hesitations about risqué subject matters) will find âÄúTowelheadâÄù devastating but all the while entertaining âÄî an exhilarating look at a pained life. Jasira, achingly portrayed by Summer Bishil, is a half-Lebanese and half-white 13-year-old growing up in the midst of the first Bush administration when the Gulf War raged and incendiary feelings toward Muslim-Americans heightened. Insecure because of taunting at school, Jasira shaves her pubic hair. But her mother is opposed to such a trimming, and when she finds the curly tuffs in their New York bathtub, she forces her daughter to move across the country to live with her Lebanese father. ThatâÄôs how we get to Houston, where blatant racism against any dark-skinned person appears to run as rampant as wild cowboys. Texas is also where Jasira begins her messy sexual maturation, and where she discovers the horrible pains and joys that come with this fruition. Her father is both militant and insincere, and when Jasira becomes flirtatious with a black kid at school, he rages. While this messy situation plays itself out at home, next door lives Travis Vuoso, a scary Aaron Eckhart, who displays some disturbingly pedophilic behavior. Toni Collette plays the watchful neighbor; itâÄôs her role that adds some of the only warmth in this scant, cold production. In this picture, the display of sexuality is about as pervasive as magic in Harry Potter; it is the twisted, conniving gravity around which the movie revolves and reflects. The aim here is to disturb, to deflower. And it does. But itâÄôs all just too shocking. JasiraâÄôs parents are written like outlandish Disney characters. At one moment her father, played by a flip-flopping Peter Macdissi, i s affable, even goofy, but in the next heâÄôs screaming at his inherently âÄúdirtyâÄù daughter. JasiraâÄôs father is just one of many characters suffering from a severe case of melodrama; instead of acting like rational beings, âÄúTowelheadâÄùâÄôs characters behave in whatever way most horrifies the audience. Her mother is no better âÄî after all, she sends her 13-year-old daughter away to live with her cold, estranged father. Their schizophrenic roles are played well, but itâÄôs impossible to stay standing after braving so many drama quakes. What saves the film is BallâÄôs fluid storytelling. For two hours, one painful disaster swiftly births another. With this constant tension rising, itâÄôs difficult to ignore the filmâÄôs energy. Tragedy inevitably envelopes the audience, and in that regard, the movie satisfies even those repelled by its provocative subjects. Ball has created a work that doesnâÄôt read as smoothly as his past projects; his trademark black wit and penchant for drama are evident, but his good taste is lost in âÄúTowelhead.âÄù The movie is like an adorable puppy with incredibly sharp teeth.