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Jayne Mansfield's Car - Movie Review

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Jayne Manfield's Car - Movie Review

4 stars

Jayne Mansfield’s Car, which represents Billy Bob Thornton’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair, is many things. The story, which he co-wrote with long-time writing partner Tom Epperson, is a meandering slice-of-life snapshot that is funny, sad, depressing, quirky, and even quit poignant… often all at the same time. Though it occasionally strays off course, it will never be characterized as normal or obvious. And in today’s world of blase cookie-cutter cinema, refusing the expected is a precious trait to be celebrated.

Set in 1969 rural Alabama, and having very little to do with Jayne Mansfield... or the car in which the actress was killed in 1967, Jayne Mansfield’s Car is a tragic father/son story starring Robert Duvall as war veteran Jim who is head of the Caldwell family which consists of straight-laced Jimbo (Robert Patrick), hippie Vietnam War protestor Carroll (Kevin Bacon), and WWII flying ace Skip (Billy Bob Thornton).

The death of the clan’s wife and mother – after she abandoned the family, moved to Europe, and married an Englishman some twenty years earlier – brings two very different families to the funeral. When the Brits, led by father Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt), son Phillip (Ray Stevenson), and daughter Camilla (France O’Connor) visit from overseas, cultures clash, personalities collide, and scars from the past reveal truths that could possibly lead to the most unexpected collision of all.

From this most basic premise is born a surprisingly provocative little gem that never ceases to captivate. Though on the surface it mimics standard slice-of-life fare with the seemingly mundane depiction of a day in the life of a southern family, this is from the mind of Billy Bob Thornton where things are always far from mundane. Most of the behavior and dialogue he and Epperson explore comes from the other side of typical, but it’s always believable and never ceases to entertain. Their narrative flow is a bit episodic and shapeless in nature, jumping from one life-versus-death theme to the next, but the fresh energy and poignancy feels far more valuable than a structured narrative.

We don’t get enough father and son stories these days with the devilishly entertaining foibles of flawed parenting typically manifesting its Hollywood presence in mother-daughter tragedies, so it’s nice to get a look at the other side here. But with each generation of the Caldwell and Bedford families having been personally affected by war, and with Vietnam raging overseas, seeing war’s effects on either family is never pretty. In fact, it’s quite shocking at times even though some of Thornton and Epperson’s anti-war material gets a bit preachy.

Jayne Mansfield’s Car is not a great movie, and neither does it even remotely approach Thornton’s Oscar-winning Sling Blade, but with solid performances from a top-notch cast (including Duvall’s hilarious LSD trip), and a script that defies conventional Hollywood, we see that the world of filmmaking is better with Billy Bob Thornton making movies.

Jayne Manfield's Car - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content, nudity, drug use and some bloody images.
Runtime:
122 mins.
Director
: Billy Bob Thornton
Writer
: Billy Bob Thornton; Tom Epperson
Cast:
Billy Bob Thornton; Robert Duvall; Kevin Bacon
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Jayne Mansfield's Car
Memorable Movie Quote: "That English accent of yours makes me hornier than Frank Sinatra"
Distributor:
Anchor Bay Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
September 13, 2013
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: A young man in the 1940s raises a family in Alabama after his wife leaves him for an Englishman and moves to England. When the wife dies, she leaves a request to be brought back to Alabama to be buried, and at that point the man hasn't seen her in nearly 30 years. The two families - her original family she abandoned and her English family - meet and make an attempt to adjust to each other, with uneven results.

No details available.

 

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