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Bryan Young

Bryan Young

Posted: January 30, 2008 12:25 AM

Sundance Review: Towelhead


I scored tickets to Towelhead and knew absolutely nothing about it. Consulting the IMDb on the way in, I found that it was written and directed by the guy who wrote American Beauty. So, I instantly expected it to be a film that told me exactly how to feel.

I would argue that this film is exactly the opposite and a lot better than American Beauty. (I didn't much like American Beauty, so that's not as high praise as it would be coming from others.)

But Towelhead follows a 13-year-old Lebanese girl who comes to her sexual awakening in a hypocritical culture. She's bombarded by media messages of sexuality (advertising, Married With Children, porno mags, etc.) but lives in an environment where no one discusses sexuality at all. It's the worst kind of abstinence only education.

Overall, I think the film was pretty good. I don't think I liked it as much as the people I was with, but I did like it. My problems with it stem mainly from the length and pacing, I thought the pacing and editing of the first half hour of the film were paced well, but the cutting didn't match the tone the film needed. It was just out of place. And the film was just over two hours and was at least 10 minutes too long.

Having said that, I think the best thing about the film is the relationship between the girl, Summer Bishil, and her much, much older neighbor, played by Aaron Eckhart. He's completely in love with her and her age doesn't seem to enter into his mind. At all. He's not a pedophile in the normal regard, he's actually interested in her.

In fact, the best moment in the film is when he apologizes to her and tells her that it isn't her fault, and then turns and runs back into the house.

But the film never tells you how you should feel about any of the sexuality going on in the film. Even when Aaron Eckhart and Summer Bishil have sex, there is no moral judging done on behalf of the filmmakers. It really just opens a window and shows it to you, but that's it. The only thing you're forced to do, is empathize with everyone, no matter how despicable they are. It's like Todd Solondz's Happiness, but you actually like all of the characters.

I don't think this film will fly very well at the box office, but I don't think it's because of a lack of quality. Between the title and the content, though, I can't see it being able to go wider than an arthouse release at best. Which is a shame, since crap like In the Name of King: A Dungeon Siege Tale can come out on like 2,500 screens.

Bryan Young blogs daily at This Divided State. You can see clips from his forthcoming film, Killer At Large, at www.killeratlarge.com.

For more reviews from Sundance, click here.

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