THROWING IN THE TOWEL
ALAN BALL'S TOWELHEAD IS PREDICTABLY ALL WET By Armond White Towelhead is the worst movie of its kind since Little Children. It's another adaptation of a trendy novel's contrived cynicism ("smartness" in mediaspeak). It's another examination of the horrors of American suburbia and the superiority of a protagonist who represents a target demographic or a politically correct victim. Here, 13-year-old Jasira (played by Summer Bishil) is both. As the mixed-race daughter of a clueless white mother (Maria Bello), she's packed off to live with her Lebanese-immigrant father (Peter Macdissi), a NASA scientist, in a redneck enclave of Houston. This information is relayed through introductory exposition as obvious as bad modern fiction. That's because Towelhead comes from Alan Ball, Oscar-winning screenwriter of the noxious American Beauty and "creator" of HBO's insufferable Six Feet Under series. Ball sets his conceit in motion with short scenes of Jasira's travails: molestation by her mother's boyfriend, mental abuse from her father, racist taunting from her new schoolmates, rape by the National Guard reservist next door. And that's just the first half hour. As in Ball's other work, it's a laughably scornful view of American life, based on fashionable snark about our nation's corruption. But Ball hasn't the wit to satirize that attitude or the circumstance-as Marcos Siega ingeniously did in Pretty Persuasion-where a WASP California teen manipulated her Muslim-immigrant classmate. In Ball's warped dramedy, Jasira (as in Al Jazeera?) goes through sadomasochistic torments as a form of social critique. Cramming in indictments of George Bush and the Iraq War isn't enlightening, it's just political porn. Worse, it sentimentalizes a young girl shutting down emotionally. Jasira's plaint recalls Gus Van Sant: She's blamed for everything, a pawn in the director's quasi-queer schema which is typically covert, as it was in Paranoid Park and American Beauty. Ball's corrupt style smacks of HBO formula. These clichéd characters (especially as enacted by Aaron Eckhart and Toni Collette, both dependably tasteless) have contrived significance that leaves a viewer no room to think, just scoff. It doesn't work as melodrama because the emotions aren't real. It's agenda drama, full of simplistic, predictable points. Jasira defends her father: "He's a Christian, just like everybody else in Texas!" But this is no fairer than Ball portraying the family of Jasira's black boy as ethnic stereotypes who celebrate Christmas by playing Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain." When Jasira's father hits and spits at her, he screams, "You don't live in the moral universe!" But neither does Ball-even his indefensible title is contemptuous. -- Towelhead Directed by Alan Ball, Running time: 124 min. --
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