Review: 'Towelhead'

This coming-of-age story uses a traumatic incident to expose the seamy underbelly of suburbia, shocking and confounding us at the same time.

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Alan Ball, who wrote "American Beauty" and created "Six Feet Under," loves to show us the rot beneath the gleaming facade of suburbia. He's doing it again in "Towelhead," which is set in the 1980s during Desert Storm and is based on a novel by Alicia Erian. It's about the sexual stirrings of Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13-year-old Arab-American girl and the only child of an imperious Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi) and an American mother (Maria Bello), from whom he's separated. Ball's specialty is showing us shocking material – in this case the sexual involvements of Jasira with her neighbor, an Army reservist (played by Aaron Eckhart) – and then confounding our expectations. Instead of being traumatized, Jasira seems to take it all in stride. Is this reality or is it Ball's fantasy of what reality could or should be? The latter, I think. What he intends as knife-edge realism instead comes across as another con job. Grade: C (Rated R for strong disturbing sexual content and abuse involving a young teen, and for language.)

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