If 2007 was the year of "Juno," the 17-year-old movie heroine who singlehandedly made teen pregnancy family-friendly, will 2008 be the year of Jasira, 13-year-old title figure of "Towelhead," who will make Americans regard teen sexuality without projecting their own fantasies? Played by the sensational Summer Bishil, Jasira is a curious teenager who encounters the gamut of abuse. Jasira's estranged parents bat her around like a shuttlecock in their divorce badminton, the students at her Houston middle school tag her with racial epithets, the lecher next door eyes her inappropriately and, from billboards to centerfolds, sexualized images of females make Jasira think that's all women are.
Based on the novel by Alicia Erian, "Towelhead" -- which opens in some cities on September 12 and in Philadelphia on September 19 -- was adapted for the screen and directed by Alan Ball in a much more realistic tone than Sam Mendes brought to Ball's script for "American Beauty." I don't think I've ever seen on screen such a candid representation of teen sexuality and confusion. It's a brutally honest and brutally funny film about 13-year-olds and the childish adults around them that is too sophisticated for 13-year-olds. This is because that lecher next door, a Humbert Humbert figure played by Aaron Eckhart, sees Jasira as a Lolita out to seduce him rather than as a child of divorce so powerless in her own life that in order get the adult tenderness she isn't getting from her parents, confuses sex with emotional intimacy.
If I'm right that "Towelhead" is this year's Juno and Summer Bishil this season's Ellen Page, then a lot of underage teens will be sneaking into the theater as our-then 15-year-old sneaked into "American Beauty" against our express injunction. I'm hard-pressed to think of boy's or girl's coming of age movies appropriate to younger teens, can you?