If you haven’t seen this film and want to, don’t read beyond the third paragraph.
I’d only just heard about the film Towelhead when I read this KABOBfest post. I’d seen a preview, which made it abundantly clear that there would be some sort of inappropriate sexual relationship between the characters played by Aaron Eckhart and Summer Bishil, but aside from that had no idea what I was getting into.
Let me address the Arab issue quickly and move on. First of all, main character Jasira and her father are Lebanese Christians living in Texas. Her father is fairly conservative, mostly supporting President Bush Senior’s policies on Iraq, and posting an American flag on the front lawn to one-up the neighbors. He’s also conservative in the other sense, slapping his daughter in one early scene for coming to breakfast in skimpy pajamas and telling her not to date a black boy from school, lest he ruin her reputation. He is also a single father who has not had any hand in raising his daughter and thus doesn’t know the first thing about how to do it.
But, for a movie called Towelhead, you could’ve too easily substituted “Lebanese” with “Greek” or “Latino” (and towelhead with another unpleasant moniker) and it would’ve been almost the same film. The actual Arab issue (including the repeated use of the words “towelhead”, “sand nigger”, and “camel jockey”) was hardly dealt with which, to me, was a good thing, but to the vast majority of whitebread Americans that will see this, is unfortunate. I actually overheard someone in the cinema say “I didn’t know there were Arab Christians.” But I digress.
Aside from that, my first impression of the film was that a) It was extremely difficult to watch and b) that I enjoyed it nonetheless. Hard to watch because Jasira is so painfully awkward. And the story is more a lesson on what happens when a young, beautiful girl has no strong adult figure in her life than anything else. Her father is at first strict, but then frequently leaves her home alone for sleepovers at his girlfriend’s house. Her mother is a negligent woman who sends her to live with her father when things get rough, then begs her back and cries loneliness when Jasira doesn’t want to go. And it only gets worse from there.
I won’t delve into the plot too much, but what I think a lot of people will not take away from this film is how – statutory rape aside – utterly normal Jasira’s sexual curiosity and even experimentation are. Fortunately, one character – a little too late in the film if you ask me – gets it. Their pregnant hippie-esque neighbor, played by Toni Collette, takes an interest in Jasira and manages to save her from her predatory neighbor, albeit somewhat too late. She also manages to sum up what I hoped the film would by helping Jasira understand what’s normal and what’s not (namely sexual curiosity = normal, sleeping with your married adult neighbor = not).
Another itty bitty bit of pleasing salvation comes when the neighbor/rapist briefly encounters Jasira at the end and tells her “it ain’t your fault.” Cinematically, it was probably used to show that Jasira will eventually be okay, which makes total sense given how rapidly the movie ends after that; realistically, I think it shows that these things aren’t as black and white as we’d like them to be. That although inter-generational sex as such is certainly against the law and certainly unhealthy, between the two parties involved, it’s just not that simple.
Anyhow, I liked the film, but I’m glad I saw it with a female friend with whom I’m close. I cannot imagine any two people wandering into that on a first date. Holy awkward. In fact, if you’ve read this far still having not seen the film (what did I tell you?) but are intrigued, do me a favor and wait for it on DVD.