Jayne Mansfield's Car (2013)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Jayne Mansfield's Car assembles an impressive number of talented actors, but the screenplay -- co-written by director and star Billy Bob Thornton -- never gives them much of anything to do.


Movie Info

In what critics are calling his best work as writer/director since SLINGBLADE, Academy Award (R) winner Billy Bob Thornton stars - along with Oscar (R) winner Robert Duvall, two-time Oscar (R) nominee John Hurt and Golden Globe winner Kevin Bacon - in this story of fathers and sons, wars and peace, and the turbulent time that changed America forever. It's 1969 in a small Alabama town, and the death of a quirky clan's long-estranged wife and mother brings together two very different families for … More

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, nudity, drug use and some bloody images)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Tom Epperson, Billy Bob Thornton
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 9, 2013
Box Office: $14.3k
Runtime:
Anchor Bay Films - Official Site

Cast


as Jim Caldwell

as Kingsley Bedford

as Carroll Caldwell

as Skip Caldwell

as Jimbo Caldwell

as Phillip Bedford

as Camilla Bedford

as Vicky Caldwell

as Neal Baron

as Naomi Caldwell
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Jayne Mansfield's Car

All Critics (35) | Top Critics (13)

There's a terrific movie struggling to escape from this overplotted, overedited, overdetermined stew ...

Full Review… | September 16, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

It's one thing to explore the messiness of familial relationships and regret against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, and something else entirely to try and shove every jot and tiddle in place before the closing credits roll.

Full Review… | September 13, 2013
TheWrap
Top Critic

Jayne Mansfield's Car isn't likely to set America's theaters on fire, but it's a powerful whisper of a film.

Full Review… | September 13, 2013
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic

Overall, the rambling "Jayne Mansfield's Car" is almost as big a wreck as its namesake.

Full Review… | September 13, 2013
New York Post
Top Critic

In its best moments, you can see what the film might have been with half a dozen fewer characters.

Full Review… | September 12, 2013
New York Times
Top Critic

The scenes in which good ol' boy mentality clashes with stuffy British sensibility are a highlight. Still, both cultures are depicted through cliches.

Full Review… | September 12, 2013
USA Today
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Jayne Mansfield's Car

Billy Bob Thornton tells stories like a novelist. Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with that, but when I see a scene that is nothing but flavor in a movie I really want it go somewhere. Like when Kevin Bacon dives in the water with his two nieces: I felt the relief from the heat, but it didn't mean anything and I think in a movie--I mean you don't have all day--every second has to mean something or it reads like a home movie. That's not to say I didn't like the flavor. It means I'm conflicted about this film.

Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

½

An all-star cast, in a film written and directed by, and aso starring, Billy Bob Thornton, about a good 'ol boy southern redneck, Jim Caldwell, with a morbid curiosity in fatal car wrecks, played superbly by Robert Duvall, and his eccentric, hugely dysfunctional family, set in 1969. It is also about war and peace, the generation gap, and how family is defined. Big Jim is one cold-hearted sumbitch who at one point laments that his eldest son, who never saw action, turned out to be pretty normal while the younger two, who enlisted, saw heavy action, and came home heroes are mighty screwed up. It is about how different generations see war, based on their experiences. The heat of the small-town Alabama summer just drips off the screen and the dialog seems genuine and unforced. There is a dark humor that trickles in and out of various scenes, which otherwise might have become overbearing and depressing. I thought it a well done film, in spite of one little plot twist toward the end that went off in an absurd direction I liked it. A lot.

Mark Abell
Mark Abell

Super Reviewer

½

"Here in Jayne Mansfield's car, I feel safest of all; I can lock all my doors; it's the only way to live, if you can get past the Satanism, in Jayne Mansfield's car!" By no means am I a religious man, but if cars are supposed to be so safe, then Mansfield must have earned herself some fury from above, because I've seen the pictures, and that car wreck wasn't even remotely as pretty as he was, you know, before she flew under that tractor-trailer. Yeah, they don't talk about it much, but Mansfield was so into Satanism that she dated Anton LaVey and everything, which, of course, makes her even more irrelevant to the central themes of this film, because where she was more of a Bible burner, we have a whole lot of Bible thumpers here in my beloved sweet home, Alabama (Curse you, Lynyrd Skynyrd, for making that description annoying, at least around here). Yup, this flick is set in Alabama, and you know what, it doesn't exactly help fight the rumors that if it's not racist and dumb here, then there's nothing interesting, not necessarily because this film isn't interesting, but because they shot this thing in various parts of Georgia, ostensibly so they wouldn't grace this fine soil with the presence of a cast full of celebrities, including a certain Albertville celebrity. Yeah, people, I don't want to sound like I'm showing off or anything, but my father knew a guy... who knew a guy who drummed in Billy Bob Thornton's band, The Boxmasters, and actually has an... uncredited extra role in this... extremely low-profile film... I think. Okay, maybe I'm not the best showoff in Alabama, but just by ostensibly being somewhere in this film, Mike Bruce is one degree away from Kevin Bacon, which would be great and all if he didn't recently get into a terrible motorcycle accident (Maybe Gary Numan is right when he says that it's safer being in a car, unless, of course, you're Jayne Mansfield). In all seriousness, folks, try to give some support to good ol' Bubba Bruce, at least more so than you're showing support for this film, for I believe the reason why Billy Bob Thornton decided to get back into filmmaking after over ten years was to prove that he can, in fact, make a film that is less successful than "Daddy and Them", which is alright with me, because as one of the few people who is actually seeing this, I can tell you that it's pretty decent, though not without some serious problems, kind of like Jayne Mansfield.

There are a few refreshing elements here, and at any rate, at this point, it's hard to do something all that new with a film like this, yet there's no completely forgiving familiarity, you know, when material actually kicks in without Billy Bob Thornton, as filmmaker, trying to change things up with almost surrealistically strange occasions of storytelling overstylization. Really, the overstylized moments aren't too serious, but they're questionable enough when you take out of account their being underused, leaving the most recurring questionable attribute to Thornton's direction to be his almost trademark atmospheric dryness, whose thoughtfulness is effective at times, but generally bland, if not kind of dull. If nothing else, the atmospheric dryness stiffens pacing, making it hard to not notice how overdrawn length gets to be in this film, which, at about two hours, is not too terribly long, and certainly devotes a good bit of time of fleshing things out, but all too often fleshes things out too much with repetitiously excessive filler, if not excess material. Just about all of the layers to this plot are well-handled enough to be worthy, though when you step back and take things in, it's hard to not feel that this narrative is bloated, perhaps to the point of being convoluted, which makes it pretty ironic that the plot is ultimately still too thin for its own good. Now, with all of my complaints about familiar or excessive material, the biggest problems with this film is easily a lack of material, or at least a lack of focused material, for although this narrative is intentionally meditative, it's too aimless in subtle dramatic progression, resulting in a wealth of natural shortcomings that thin out potential and, with it, engagement value, in spite of inspiration. There aren't a whole lot of problems with this film, and in a moment, I will go into how well-done the film is in so many places, but at the end of the day, the final product falls short of rewarding, not necessarily because of pacing problems and the occasional piece of overambition to stylization, but because of mere limitations to narrative meat that faulty storytelling make all the clearer. I wish that this film could have been more, but as it stands, it hardly deserves the heat it's been receiving, having limitations to material that, upon rising, goes tainted, but enough inspiration to endear, and even sell a pretty enjoyable environment.

The film is pretty sharply presented from a visual standpoint, as Barry Markowitz's subtly handsome cinematography and Nicole LeBlanc's subtly convincing art direction go a long way in building an effective visual style, with broad, well-defined shots that give you a firm grip on a 1960s Alabama setting. Subtle style certainly looks might fine when you take it for what it is as mighty handsome, and quite frankly, it plays a pretty big part in selling this environment, which in turn plays a pretty big part in selling important themes dealing with shifts in society and differences between generations, although that's not to say that style is the only attribute to Billy Bob Thornton's direction. Thornton's directorial storytelling is characterized by a dry approach that dulls plenty of elements down, but almost just as often has a thoughtful aura that captures the humble tone of this aimless, but genuine narrative, and carries some subtly piercing bite when material really does kick in. The slow-burn heart at the core of Thornton's directorial performance endears, but what really keeps this thing going is Thornton's and Tom Epperson's script, which is flawed and with limited material, yet is not simply about as strong as it can be with a story concept this thin, but arguably outstanding, not just with its sharp dialogue and humorous moments, but very genuine characterization, which could have easily gotten stereotypical, but is believable and thorough well-realized, drawing colorfully well-rounded and deeply human characters with interesting background information and deep range that drive a layered, if aimless narrative which captures both the era and, to a certain extent, depths of this important time for society in principle-driven parts of America. Alas, storytelling is generally too draggy to compel all that much, but there are some very moving moments to break up a consistent degree of engagement value that I'm surprised is being overlooked by critics, no matter how tainted it may be, and if there is potential to this thin plot concept, decent direction and strong writing shed enough light on it to endear, perhaps as much as one talented cast. As I've been saying time and again, plotting material is mighty limited, but I don't fully grasp why Rotten Tomatoes' consensus would boast that Thornton's script "never gives [this cast] much of anything to do", for although there's not enough acting material to deliver on truly outstanding performances, most everyone delivers, even in the supporting cast, with Ron White being underused, but almost show-stealingly outstanding as comic relief who delivers on his trademark raspy whitetrash hilarity, while John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, Marshall Allman and Kevin Bacon deliver on their own show-stealing moments on a dramatic level, which is dominated by worthy leads Robert Duvall - who captures the estranged father role with his trademark stern, but somewhat vulnerable presence - and Billy Bob Thornton, who captures the dynamic Skip Caldwell character as the middleman between old-fashioned southern principles and '60s movements into the future, as well as a flawed human by his own right who is trying to find a path in his life. Outside of handsome visual style, acting is pretty much the only consistently strong element to this drama, and even then, it too goes held back by some serious limitations to the material within this thin story concept, yet there's still enough heart to the performances, both onscreen and off, to engage as quite decent, maybe even underappreciated, in spite of some loss in potential.

Overall, material is tainted with familiarity, if not overstylization, and delivered with a bland atmospheric dryness that emphasizes the aimlessness of draggy plotting, which is itself emphatic of natural shortcomings that are so considerable in this thin narrative concept that they ultimately drive the final product just short of rewarding, in spite of the handsome, era-capturing visual style, thoughtful direction, strong and well-characterized writing and inspired acting that make "Jayne Mansfield's Car" a certainly improvable, but endearing meditation upon family dysfunction and mending in the midst of change in society and principles.

2.75/5 - Decent

Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

Jayne Mansfield's Car Quotes

– Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)

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