Kevin Bacon, Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Patrick, John Patrick Amedori, Katherine LaNasa, Frances O'Connor, Shawnee Smith, Ray Stevenson, Ron White, Marshall Allman, Carissa Capobianco, and Karli Barnett in Jayne Mansfield's Car (2012)


(director/writer: Billy Bob Thornton; screenwriter: Tom Epperson; cinematographer: Barry Markowitz; editor: Lauren Zuckerman; music: Owen Easterling Hatfield; cast: Robert Duvall(Jim Caldwell), John Hurt (Kingsley Bedford), Billy Bob Thornton(Skip Caldwell), Kevin Bacon (Carroll Caldwell), Robert Patrick (Jimbo Caldwell), Ray Stevenson (Phillip Bedford), Katherine LaNasa (Donna Baron), Frances O’Connor (Camilla Bedford), Shawnee Smith (Vicky Caldwell), Ron White (Neal Baron),John Patrick Amedori (Mickey Caldwell), Marshall Allman (Alan Caldwell), Irma P. Hall (Dorothy Lambert); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Rodnyansky, Kosinski; Anchor Bay Films (A Media Talent Group and A.R. Films); 2012)

“Zany but strained period piece dramedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Billy Bob Thornton(“Daddy and Them”/”Sling Blade”/”All the Pretty Horses “) zany but strained period piece dramedy, that he stars, directs and co-writes with Tom Epperson. It’s set in rural Alabama in 1969, and involves a generational conflict between fathers and sons from both England and the States. The title is derived from the real 1967 car wreck accident that killed the actress Jayne Mansfield on a Louisiana road. It’s applicable to the pic, because the main character is obsessed with following car crashes and will at one point in the pic view the star’s car as it is offered for sale.

Everything about the limply written story seems schematic and programmed more to create contrived comedy than give one a natural feel for the country’s fervent time in the 1960s, when it was divided along generational lines.

This is Thornton’s first film he has directed in eleven years.

Jim Caldwell (Robert Duvall) is the crotchety eccentric WW I vet, who is the patriarch of a dysfunctional southern clan. The patriarch’s estranged wife left him and her kids twenty years ago to marry the Englishman named Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt).

Jim is saddened when informed of her death by cancer. Her wish to be buried in her hometown is honored by her second husband, who arrives in Alabama for the funeral with his two children from his first marriage, the psychologically wounded Japanese POW survivor son who is still apologetic for not seeing combat, Phillip (Ray Stevenson), and his younger sister Camilla (Frances O’Connor). While staying at a local motel, much to the displeasure of both patriarchs, Jim’s frisky daughter Donna Baron (Katherine LaNasa), married to the vulgar ex-jock car dealer (Ron White), invites the English relatives over to the family home for a cook-out and for a chance to get to know each other. The meeting will test Jim’s hatred for his successor, whom he never has met after all these years.

Carroll Caldwell (Kevin Bacon) is the conflicted WW II medal-winning marine medic son, now fueling dad’s rage by being a pot smoking hippie who opposes the Vietnam War. The other son is the weird Skip (Billy Bob Thornton), the oldest at 50, still looking for dad’s approval. Skip was an ace Navy combat pilot during the war, whose body is covered in burns after a narrow escape. He is also a fanatic vintage car collector. The third son is the happily married to Vicky (Shawnee Smith) conservativebusinessmanJimbo (Robert Patrick), who is guilt-ridden for spending WW II on laundry duty without seeing combat. Ironically, he is now dad’s favorite.

Also around to keep the generational conflicts going are Jim’s two grandsons (Marshall Allman & John Patrick Amedori).

There are too many offbeat characters, provocative skits and secondary back stories to follow in this awkwardly presented narrative, that becomes tiresome when it goes on for too long. All the characters have chances to throw a fit, give a soliloquy or go off on their own private angst. Nevertheless there are a few poignant scenes, such as the one where Jim and Kingsley begin to bond, as the southerner asks the Englishman how he met his wife.

But the sentimental male weepie never becomes that engaging, as it turns into a second-rate quirky Tennessee Williams southern family drama. Its prose is too leaden and its long-winded affair between the hot daughter of the southern patriarch and the anxiety-driven Phillip, only seems falsely poignant–perhaps like the pic itself.