31 December 2008

Towelhead

Coming of age stories have been done to death, so I suppose you can't blame people for trying to spice it up with a little controversy. And in some ways, I suppose this is a brave, and relevant movie. Unfortunately, it's also terribly written and riddled with painfully stereotypical characters.

I have to give Towelhead credit for being bracingly honest about the sexual awakenings of young women - within the first 20 minutes of the movie, the main character has masturbated to orgasm. Ok, kudos. Unfortunately, this movie suffers from the same flaws that a lot of other works that depict graphic sex do - it can't have graphic teenage sex without having plenty of disturbing, abnormal sex as well. It's like some unwritten law of movies, that any teenage girl who enjoys masturbation and is willing to have sex with her boyfriend MUST also be sexually molested AT LEAST once. Actually, pretty much every male in the movie (with one exception) is obsessed with sex, from her touchingly eager boyfriend to her anguished molester neighbor, so with all these sexual predators trolling around, it'd be a miracle if Jazira DIDN'T get molested. The movie, in what I suppose is an effort to be complex and controversial, makes her a somewhat willing, albeit confused and scared, participant in these events. It's disturbing, and unpleasant to watch, and all for what? 

It's a pity, really, because there's actually a kind of a clever sub-plot, where Jazira dreams of being a Playboy model. This could have been a subtle, playful, interesting way to explore teenage desire and cultural hypocrisy (there's a great scene where she and her friend go to get glamor photos done at the mall). But instead, it got saddled with molesters and trauma. What a disappointment.

But that's not the real problem with the movie. The real problem is that pretty much all the adults in it are cartoonishly awful. Her mother's boyfriend molests her, her mom then tells her it's her own fault, her dad is stereotypically horrifically strict and vicious, and her neighbor - although very well played by Aaron Eckhart, or at least, as well as possible with such a terrible script - is a racist pedophile. Actually, equally preposterous are her neighbors, who are practically saints. Which actually, I didn't mind as much, because hey, it's always nice to have positive role models, but it's part of how ridiculous the whole movie is. 

And then there's the racism, both of the people in the neighborhood towards Jazira and her father, and (the sadly predictable) racism of her father towards her black boyfriend. Which is all pretty much about as cliche as it gets. 

The last 15 minutes of the film are slightly more interesting, in that all the tensions of the film come to a head, but it's also kind of preposterous. You've got to love (SPOILER ALERT, SORRY, I CAN'T RESIST) a girl who tries to make amends for getting her rapist arrested by handing him his deep-frozen dead kitty that her father ran over, and after all the grimness of film, it's kind of touching that it goes for such a super-duper ├╝ber happy ending. It's so outrageous that I actually kind of loved it. 

But it's still not a very good movie.

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