As retrograde as the beliefs of its elder characters, Jayne Mansfield’s Car offers up 1969-set generational and cultural conflicts—along with lots of father-son tensions—that go nowhere except the most predictable places at the slowest pace possible. Billy Bob Thornton’s return to the director’s chair is a musty period piece that charts the many meaningful things that happen for one Alabama family when its estranged matriarch, having left years earlier for England, dies, and her second family chooses to bring her back to be buried. That’s mighty upsetting for Robert Duvall’s crusty old vet, who’s already busy sparring with his anti-Vietnam hippie son Kevin Bacon, and now must contend with his ex-wife’s second husband, John Hurt, and his two kids, Ray Stevenson and Frances O’Connor. To make things even edgier, Hurt and his clan decide to stay with Duvall and his brood, which also includes Katherine LaNasa’s daughter (who’s hot for Stevenson), Robert Patrick’s conservative son (who still seethes over not seeing combat in WWII), and Thornton’s weirdo car enthusiast.
That Thornton’s wartime scars are both figurative and literal—his body is covered in burns, which he at one point decorates with his air force medals—is indicative of the profound obviousness of Jayne Mansfield’s Car, whose title refers to Duvall and company’s shared fascination with, and misplaced ...
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