Towelhead is the tale of a 13 year old girl who’s confused by the changes her body makes and a changing view on the people around her. She knows that she’s attracting the attention of boys and men but does not understand exactly why that is. Basically Towelhead is about Jailbait slowly learning that she is jailbait and that you can say no… to cock. That’s kind of a harsh way of putting it but that’s my view on the title character who attracts men, even adults and goes too far with them against her will.
Jasira is a 13-year old girl who’s just hitting puberty. Young guys at the pool called her Chewbacca because she didn’t trim the bikini line so she needs a shave. Luckily her step-dad is kind enough to help her with that. Mommy finds out, takes the side of her boyfriend and sends Jasira, who could use a strong female character in her life at this point, to her single Lebanese dad in Houston. Her dad is strictly against things like make-up, skirts, tampons and such. He’s very protective of his daughter, yet enforces that protection by smacking her when she’s not obeying his wish. She takes up babysitting at her neighbors, the Vuocos at whose place she discovers pornographic literature and by accident finds out what an orgasm is and how she gets them. Travis, the father of the family catches her with the literature and is immediately seduced by the idea of this young woman in front of him being busy with a sexual discovery. While he can master his urges in the beginning the lolita haunts his mind all the time, especially when she mentions the magazines give her orgasms. This faithful husband is on a road heading to adultery and statutory rape.
On school she gets picked on but one boy displays an interest in her; a young black classmate called Thomas. Her dad of course is not fond of her seeing boys, let alone a black one. So young Jasira is surrounded by a neighbor who is an ideal contestant for “To Catch A Predator”, a horny teen and a repressive dad who’s more interested in his new girlfriend than he is in Jasira. Luckily a pregnant neighbor takes an interest in her and becomes some sort of mother figure and sees what the predatory neighbor is up to.
From the opening scene where we first meet Jasira in her bathing suit with shaving cream on her private area it is quite clear that this is not a movie that is concerned with being subtle. Stepdad is all too eager to help her shave, mom blames her for seducing him, dad is an oppressive and conservative man, the neighbors are partially racist (they do try to get to know their neighbors but are full of prejudice) and the black teen is basically interested in her for the sex.
So her surroundings are rather blunt, the same goes for Jasira who did not pay any attention when The Bad Touch was discussed at school. She’s only 13 of course, but when I was 13 I had the first sex education and had some perspective of what is wrong and what is right. Jasira just tells the father of the child she’s baby-sitting in on her having orgasms on his porno magazines. I can understand that something like this is confusing for the man but as an adult he should know where the limits are in such cases. Jasira herself clearly doesn’t know how to handle her awakening sexuality. She loves the orgasms she’s getting but she doesn’t know when to say no. At one point she even offers herself to her boyfriend who isn’t speaking to her no more. This silence quickly comes to an end after this of course. But this shallow proposal shows once more that she does not know how to handle her sexuality; the empty, uninterested look in her eyes when she has sex with her boyfriend says more than a thousand words.
A sex scene with Mr Vuoco brings up memories of Lilja Forever; seeing an old man on such a young girl brings up feelings of disgust.
At moments I wondered if she really was innocent and didn’t know what she was doing or was this girl herself a predator underneath. After being caught with the magazines she grows some sort of a fascination for Mr Vuoco. Not only letting him on her sexual feelings, but going out with him, letting him in her house when she’s alone and even picking him as an object to interview for a journalism class and questioning him about condoms during that interview. He might be a predator, but she sure seems an eager prey.
The movie plays with the character of Mr Vuoco who really becomes a slimy character rather quickly but is also identifiable, at least for the male public. His actions are wrong, his intent even more so, but the scales tip in different directions; In one scene he’s clearly hunting her, in another she’s hunting him and basically throwing her at him. Only in the end do they make him truly despicable when he starts using those methods and excuses (lousy marriage) mistresses normally have to deal with.
Blunt as the movie is it does work. The movie shows that even in the quietest of neighborhoods the world behind the doors of the homes can be very loud, disturbing. Maybe if the victim here was more a victim the movie would have made more of an emotional impact on the viewer. The cliche excuse “she was asking for it” really comes to mind here and I wonder what I would have done if I was in the situations of Thomas the boyfriend or Travis the neighbor. Knowing what the right thing to do is and actually doing so can be a lot harder than people from the sideline always think.