Jayne Mansfield’s Car is a story about a big, rich family in Alabama in the 60’s. Jim Caldwell is the eldest father to three sons and a daughter, who have kids of their own. One day they get a call from England telling them that Jim’s former wife and mother to his kids has died of cancer. Now her new family is coming to America to bury her in Alabama, forcing the two families to meet.
The film is written/directed/stars Billy Bob Thornton, who I actually haven’t seen much of in my movie viewing career. He is clearly a capable and talented writer/director/actor, having won many awards and pumped out a lot of material. What he brings to the screen now is a low-key, character driven drama about the clashing of families and cultures.
The ensemble cast is a mighty list of names: Robert Duvall plays Jim Cladwell, the father to all most of the main characters; Thornton plays one of his sons, Skip; Robert Patrick plays another son, Jimbo; Kevin Bacon plays the third, hippie son Carroll; John Hurt plays Kingsley Bedford, the father of the second family from England; Ray Stevenson plays Kingsley’s son Phillip; Frances O’Connor plays Kingsley’s daughter Camilla.
The movie seems to me an odd mixture. With some comedy peppered in and different layers and levels and family drama, the film is a little spread. Some of the tangents seem like they came out of Thornton’s own diary, others just pulled from a history book. I think the film lacks consistent, overall conviction, and the pace seems a little slow. The performances are of course top notch, with a few awesome monologues from a couple different actors, and there are some great scenes, but I wasn’t left with a good idea of what the movie was trying to be or say.
2/4 – Billy Bob Thornton brings together a great cast in Jayne Mansfield’s Car that give us some great performances and scenes, but all in all just an okay film.