TIFF 2012 Film Review: Jayne Mansfield’s Car

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Fragoso on 19 Sep 2012

Billy Bob Thornton’s latest directorial effort beholds some of strangest sequences I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. The landscape is the summer of 1969 in Morrison, Alabama. Tension and animosity is spreading like wildfire across America thanks to the polarising Vietnam War as even amid the Caldwell family, three sons that have all fought for their country et al, there is argumentative and heated discourse. But when news comes in that Mrs. Caldwell, after moving to Europe some twenty years ago without her family) has died, it all just goes out of the window. For the funeral her British relatives come overseas, with the Brits causing cultures to clash, friendships to form and broken hearts by the time the credits roll.

The long list of talented actors and actress featured in Thornton’s new picture go on and on and on. Most notable are his own Skip and Kevin Bacon’s Carroll, two anti-war Americans that each go through emotional breakthroughs. Robert Duvall is perfect as their father, a masochist of sorts who has fetish for local car accidents and doesn’t respond too cordially to his sons’ (and grandsons’) behavior.

In what ultimately proves to be the better elements of the film, the Bedford’s – including Kingsley (late husband of Mrs. Caldwell played by John Hurt), Phillip (Ray Stevenson), and Camilla (Frances O’Connor) – bring a charm that would have otherwise been absent. By pitting the two geographically and culturally clashing families together for a singular tragic event, honest discussion can transpire without too much pretense or contrivance. Unfortunately, that tactfulness Thornton displays early on quickly descends into an unclassifiable brand of storytelling.

Cut and edited in a style that suggests we’ll be receiving episode two of the program next week, Jane Mansfield’s Car is a highly dramatised film, containing laughably abominable dialogue discussing a variety of morbid subjects, about two families, both of whom have been directly or indirectly affected by war.

Duvall and Hurt, LaNasa (Vicky, a middle aged Caldwell woman) Stevenson share some of the few moments of real quality, otherwise though, Jane Mansfield’s Car is a perpetually interminable drama. Despite suffering from a lack of conviction, it clearly comes from personal place deep within Thornton thoughts, but it’s there simply isn’t enough intimacy expressed in the collage of storylines, all working against o ne another without providing a satisfying payoff. At least on a positive note there’s about a two-minute scene where Robert Duvall takes a trip on LSD. It’s absolutely priceless.


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