Towelhead

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Towelhead Movie Poster Image
Racism and abuse sabotage teen's sexual awakening.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 124 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Racism (both subtle and overt) is seen from a variety of angles: toward Middle-Eastern people, toward African Americans. People who are themselves victims of bigotry reveal themselves to be bigoted. A Lebanese girl is called "towelhead," "camel jockey," "sand n----r." She learns to fight back and not allow such behavior. Adults continually act in inappropriate ways, exhibiting ignorance, self-involvement, cruelty, inept parenting, dishonesty, and sexual perversion.

Violence

A father loses his temper on two occasions -- he grabs, hits, spits, and uses his fists on a girl. A dead kitten on road, then seen in plastic bag and placed in freezer. Sexual assault against a teen girl.

Sex

Frequent sexual scenes that include bare-breasted women (in a magazine and in a sexual fantasy), a teen boy and girl having intercourse, sounds of an adult couple having sex, an adult male seducing and sexually assaulting 13-year-old, a teen boy and an adult male preparing to shave a young teen's pubic hair in two separate scenes, menstrual blood (including one scene of a bloody tampon), multiple scenes of teen masturbation (both off-camera and partially on-camera), and a teen girl being asked to strip for male pleasure on two occasions.

Language

Used liberally throughout: "f--k," "bulls--t," "ass," "piss." Racial slurs (including the term used as the movie's title) as well.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Father gives taste of beer to young teen daughter; 13-year-old sneaks margarita and feels its effect; adult couple gets tipsy after wine with dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this disturbing movie is highly controversial by intent. The film's trailer sells it as a contemporary satire about an ethnically mixed culture, but the only humor comes from viewers' shock at seeing characters portrayed as ridiculously obtuse, cruel, and unaware. There are many scenes of intense psychological and sexual abuse. The victim is a 13-year-old girl who's dealing with her own budding sexual urges; throughout the film, she's at the mercy of predatory adults, dysfunctional parents, and race-baiting teens and kids. Scenes of masturbation, statutory rape, intercourse, and bare-breasted fantasies alternate with scenes of racial name-calling, dishonesty, jealousy, and heartlessness. In other words? Not for kids.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywonder dove May 19, 2012

Great movie but very strong - Hard to stomach!

I liked this movie a lot. It's different than anything I've ever seen before but it's definitely not for everyone - you will either love it or ha... Continue reading
Parent of a 10, 12, and 18+ year old Written bydolalee January 4, 2009

Definitely Adults Only - Not Comedic

I liked this movie, but it was very hard to watch. This is a serious movie about sexual abuse, sexual exploration during puberty, and the difficulties of growi... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byPrincessCharmed797 February 8, 2013

Towelhead

Towelhead is the newest attraction from the creative mind of Alan Ball. This time he looks at the sexual tension that a 13 yr. old girl has towards a young boy... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCyonnara April 4, 2010

NOT for children but okay for mid-teenagers

I just watched this movie and I loved it personally I think that teenagers should be introduced to this film because this girls life can communicate with others... Continue reading

What's the story?

When 13-year-old Lebanese-American Jasira (Summer Bishil) threatens her insecure mother's relationship with a live-in boyfriend, the young teen is sent to live with her father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi), in an arid, charmless community in Texas. The self-absorbed Rifat hasn't a clue about parenting and relates to his daughter only as a misguided, short-tempered authority figure. In her desperate need for a loving, nurturing relationship, Jasira falls prey to the seductive advances of Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), a military man who lives a few houses away; to the hormone-driven magnetism of Thomas (Eugene Jones III), an African-American classmate; and to the anti-Arab sentiment everywhere around her. Only the arrival of Melina (Toni Collette) in the house next door offers Jasira a safe harbor and the hope of a better life.

Is it any good?

TOWELHEAD is very hard to watch. The fact that it's being touted as a "comedy" is misleading at the very least. The only laughs come when the audience reacts to the depths of cruelty, selfishness, and insensitivity on display. Even "black" comedy shouldn't be this bleak. When not laughing at the characters' witless behavior, viewers will gasp at their brutality, ugliness, and insensitivity. These are damaged people, stunted emotionally, blaming others, and wreaking havoc on the next generation.

If the intention of writer-director Alan Ball is to "shock" and "awe" audiences on his way to revealing that even the most vulnerable among us can survive nearly anything, he's partially successful. The performances are stellar, with all the actors making an effort to show the humanity beneath the horrific behavior. Unfortunately, the end product is just inescapably grim and relentless.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the movie says about victims of racial prejudice taking out their frustration on other ethnic groups. What other messages does the movie send? Do you think a movie that's controversial for controversy's sake can be effective? Families can also discuss Jasira's journey as an example of survival under horrific circumstances. Do you think she'll ever be able to overcome the life she's been handed? What clues does the filmmaker give to help you find the answer to that question? How does the movie show that having one good person on your side can make a difference?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate