The writer of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under makes his directorial debut with this fine black comedy about a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl growing up in Houston during the first Gulf War. Alan Balls trademarked peeling back American middleclass respectability to reveal lust, familial dysfunction and hypocrisy is still here but this film adds a new weapon to his arsenal: race.
Ball sticks closely to the source novel, Alicia Erians Towelhead, which is about pretty adolescent Jasira (Summer Bishil) seeking love and acceptance from a hostile environment. Her mothers boyfriend "shaves Jasira until mom (Maria Bello) sends her to live with her strict dad (Peter Macdissi of Six Feet Under) in suburban Houston. Macdissi is note-perfect as Jasiras anal-retentive, abusive father, who forbids her from wearing a tampon or seeing her black boyfriend (Eugene Jones). Meanwhile, school kids call her "sand nigger and "towel head.
Lacking affection, Jasira falls prey to redneck neighbour Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), who hires her to baby sit his bratty blonde son before molesting her. Mum, now alone and lonely, comes home for Christmas trying to take Jasira back but Jasira stays in Houston despite dads abuse. The only voice of acceptance in Jasiras world is kind neighbour Melinda (the reliable Toni Collette) and her husband, who offer shelter for the battered Jasira.
Based on strong source material that matches the themes of Balls work, Nothing Is Private is funny, heartbreaking and superb. The film is already drawing outrage from the American Right for portraying underage sexuality, however Nothing Is Private is told from Jasiras point of view, chronicling her maturation from helpless child to confident young woman.
The performances are strong all around. Summer Bishil carries the film but has support help from heavy hitters Macdissi, Bello, Collette and Echkart. This is an achievement. (Celluloid Dreams)