Jayne Mansfield’s Car

Oscar winning writer Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Bandits) said this isn’t a movie with anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s about people that you know. Thornton, who appears to be making a comeback, wrote, directed, and starred in Jayne Mansfield’s Car, which is a small independent film much like his breakout hit Sling Blade. Thornton is working with his friends here; he told me he wrote the two lead roles for himself and his long-time friend Robert Duvall. One thing Thornton and I agree on is that real life isn’t just all dramatic or consistently funny. The film is the right shade of dark comedy. On-screen, Thornton and Duvall are the best they have been in a while, and both might be up for acting nominations for Awards season 2013.

Jim (Duvall) is the father of three very different sons and a daughter who stood by their dad after their mother ran off to England and remarried. The family receives word that their mother has passed away and her wishes are to be buried back in Alabama. It’s 1969, and emotions about past and present war run high in the family, with the eldest, Jim-Bob (Robert Patrick), staying quiet and bitter about his lack of service. Skip (Thornton) collects fast cars and women while the youngest, Carroll (Kevin Bacon), smokes dope and protests the war. They all bring a different kind of crazy to their English visitors, who don’t know what to expect out of this family of misfits.

If this film has any fault, it lies within the editing.

“I wish I could speak English,” Skip says to Camilla (Frances O’Connor), meaning her accent. Thornton has written some very interesting characters here that the actors playing them must have enjoyed because of all their eccentricities. Thornton takes his time telling this story, and when I asked him why he decided to write and direct again, he said that no one can tell the stories quite the way he wants to tell them. He said much of the film came from the morbid practice of his own father going to look at car wrecks as a pastime, which we see written into Duvall’s character. In a scene where Jim is given LSD, we see Duvall go hysterical in the woods with a shotgun and the man who stole his wife away.

​Coincidentally, Jayne Mansfield’s Car has a lot in common; both stories are about an English family coming to visit an unusual American family and gawking at their strange behaviors. If this film has any fault, it lies within the editing. Running over two hours, there are a few scenes that can, and I suspect will be trimmed, making this run smoother. It had two endings, and I also think one of them might be removed, ending with nostalgia rather than surprise. Thornton is a unique person who has written a story like only he could have.

Final Thought

Thornton delivers a wildly entertaining character driven ensemble.


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