Marietta-born director rips suburbia's seams

Alan Ball's 'Towelhead' spins tale of tragic abuse

Since leaving the family home in Marietta in the late 1970s, writer-director Alan Ball has won an Oscar for "American Beauty" and an Emmy for "Six Feet Under."

Ball is poised to hog the small and big screen again soon.

Early next month will bring the debut of his HBO series, "True Blood," about a mind-reading barmaid (Oscar winner Anna Paquin) and the emergence of vampires.

Also in September comes the big-screen "Towelhead," a devastating look at modern suburban life through the eyes of a 13-year-old Arab-American girl.

Moviegoers should fasten their seat belts. Based on Alicia Erian's biting novel, "Towelhead" is a bumpy, nervy ride, diving deep into sexual awakening, verbal and physical abuse and overt racism in the days of the first Gulf War.

Set mostly in suburban Houston, "Towelhead's" challenging drama is immersed in patriotic flagpoles, pink wallpaper, frilly pillows and stacks of porn mags.

The film debuts in limited release on Sept. 12. It is expected to arrive in metro Atlanta on Sept. 19. Here's what moviegoers will likely be talking about:

THE SEX. Thirteen-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil) has dreams of frolicking with Playboy bunnies, discovers orgasms and remains constantly and innocently confused about moral choices, especially since nearly every adult around her is psychologically needy, emotionally challenged or an outright sexual predator. The sex in the film is rarely graphic, but it packs emotional wallops.

THE GIRL. Bishil is a 20-year-old, mixed-race actress who in October will co-star with Harrison Ford, Sean Penn and Ashley Judd in the immigration drama "Crossing Over."

THE CO-STARS. Maria Bello portrays Jasira's overtly needy mother (think Annette Bening in "American Beauty"). Aaron Eckhart is Jasira's predatory neighbor. Peter Macdissi ("Six Feet Under") is her father, who displays deep anger issues. Oscar nominee Toni Collette plays a pregnant neighbor and one of the film's few positive adult role models.

THE ABUSE. It comes in waves of hateful or controlling words, physical punishment (Jasira's father sometimes slaps her face or spits on her) and sexual abuse.

Coincidentally, the day "Towelhead" arrives in metro Atlanta also marks the expected debut of Dakota Fanning's "Hounddog," the controversial drama involving the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old Elvis Presley fan.

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