Like an idiot, I was lured by the curious title of Jayne Mansfield’s Car. There’s something about it that makes you look twice, like rubbernecking at a car accident or a celebrity you unexpectedly pass on the street….or a car accident involving a celebrity. In any case, Jayne Mansfield’s Car caught my attention and Billy Bob Thornton and the illustrious cast he assembled held it. I really wanted to see this movie! And then, as I sat there watching, I became antsy and bored, and the movie threatened never to end.
How do I describe this movie? It would be fair to say it’s an existential look at war and its affect on men and their interpersonal relationships in the late 1960s, but it’s so much dumber than that. When the estranged matriarch of the Caldwell family dies, her body is returned to the small Southern town she once called home. With it comes her current husband and family, all of whom are English, and there is a vague clashing and melding of cultures and families. Mostly, Jim (Robert Duvall) wants to know if you’ve ever been in a war, and then, more to the point, do you want to go chase an ambulance with him? He really likes watching as medics pull burning bodies from wrecked cars, and it’s no surprise that his offspring are stunted, emotionally broken souls who never really made it out into the world. One son (Kevin Bacon) is a drifting, draft-dodging long-hair, another can’t wait to enlist, and poor Skip (Billy Bob Thornton) bears the scars (emotional and physical) of serving in the war.
What should be an explosive character-driven drama is instead an exercise in tedium, with Skip asking a British houseguest to disrobe while speaking in her sexy, sexy accent so that he can pleasure himself. And then she listens to him speak in his slow, slow Southern accent while she does the same. These moments feel like stabs at shock value and daring film making, but are instead ill-placed and boring. If you want to spend two hours with a dysfunctional family, you’d be better off making dinner plans with your own.