Towelhead: Adolescence Is Hell During the First Gulf War

American Beauty scribe Alan Ball makes his dreaded feature-directing debut with another tale of suburban purgatory, featuring yet another erotically stifled military man (though pederasty is the forbidden fruit here). Unfolding around the events of the first Gulf War, Towelhead—cringe—follows Jasira (Summer Bishil), a pubescent half-Lebanese girl relocated to live with her father (Peter Macdissi) in Texas sprawl country. Through parental neglect and her own extreme introversion, Jasira's been left to piece together the sex-ed basics; as the film's moronic title broadcasts, her journey will be a "provocative" one—and so Ball, who can't conceive of human motives beyond the hypertrophic, smutty sexuality that's his stock in trade, primly divides his characters into avatars of Sick Repression or Healthy Liberation. Hemmed in by her father's Old World patriarchal prohibitions, her own porn-induced body loathing, and her touchy-feely GI neighbor (Aaron Eckhart), Jasira finds shelter with an "earthy" young Edie Brickell–listening couple (presumably Dukakis voters). Intellectual slackness breeds pictorial indifference in endless gray, underlit rooms strafed with hot splotches of "sunlight" suggesting a perpetual supernova outdoors. That our heroine's first menstruation is announced by a low-angle shot through the gore-sullied panties tells you everything you need to know about that famous Alan Ball touch.

 
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