TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - "Nothing Is Private," Alan
Ball's feature directorial debut, packs a major wallop.
Alternately disturbing, laceratingly satirical and
affectingly poignant, the film, which he adapted from the novel
"Towelhead," by Alicia Erian, is very much a companion piece to
the Ball-penned "American Beauty" in its unwavering examination
of the dirty little secrets and raging hypocrisies lurking just
beyond all those manicured suburban lawns.
But when it comes to its squirm-inducing subject matter --
the sexual-awakening of a 13-year-old Arab-American girl -- the
picture makes the provocative "Beauty" look like a comparative
Destined to emerge as one of the most talked-about titles
of the Toronto International Film Festival, the film was picked
up this week for release sometime next year by Warner
Independent Pictures and Netflix's Red Envelope.
In a head-turning breakthrough performance, 19-year-old
Summer Bishil (who looks much younger) is the budding
adolescent in question -- the only child of a Lebanese father
(Peter Macdissi, from Ball's "Six Feet Under") and American
mother (Maria Bello).
Set in the Operation Desert Storm-era 1980s, the film opens
with Bishil's Jasira being cast out of her divorced mother's
Syracuse home after Mom's boyfriend cops to helping her shave
her bikini area.
But it proves to be out of the frying pan and into the fire
for Jasira when she's sent to live with her strict, pompous
father, Rifat, in Houston and catches the lascivious eye of
their next-door neighbor, Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), a redneck
Army reservist with a wife and a bratty kid.
He's not the only male drawn to Jasira like a moth to a
flame. So is Thomas, a black schoolmate who also proves to be a
whiz with a disposable razor.
While her prejudiced father doesn't approve of the
relationship, Jasira's hormones get the best of her.
Taking a more motherly interest in her welfare, meanwhile,
is Toni Collette as a pregnant neighbor who's on to Vuoso's
ulterior motives for having Jasira baby-sit his son.
As the title would suggest, everyone on this cul-de-sac is
getting in everyone else's business, and Ball orchestrates all
the goings-on with a seasoned agility that belies his feature
directorial debut -- though he did receive a directing Emmy in
2002 for his work on "Six Feet Under."
In a broader context, by setting the film at the time of
America's first Iraq invasion, with TV news coverage constantly
blaring in the background, Ball is able to make telling
observations about how little things have changed -- both
politically and socially -- during the past two decades.
He also coaxes bold, fearless performances from his cast,
especially young Bishil, who remarkably conveys her character's
onslaught of mixed emotions.
Over on the satirical front, Macdissi comes dangerously
close to stealing the whole show as Jasira's arrogantly
self-righteous father. He's a wholly original creation, with
maybe a tiny bit of Borat thrown in for good measure.
Behind the scenes, Newton Thomas Sigel's camera captures
every troublesome nuance, while composer Thomas Newman, who
also contributed that oft-imitated "Beauty" score, has come up
with an appropriate variation on those previous themes.
Mr. Vuoso: Aaron Eckhart
Melina: Toni Collette
Gail: Maria Bello
Rifat: Peter Macdissi
Jasira: Summer Bishil
Thomas: Eugene Jones
Director-screenwriter: Alan Ball; Based on the novel
"Towelhead" by: Alicia Erian; Producers: Ted Hope, Steven
Rales, Alan Ball; Executive producers: Anne Carey, Scott Rudin,
Peggy Rajski; Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel;
Production designer: James Chinlund; Music: Thomas Newman;
Costume designer: Danny Glicker; Editor: Andy Keir.