Billy Bob Thornton returns to filmmaking with ‘Jayne Mansfield’s Car’

A massive cast, led by co-writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (towards the right), makes up the messy but thrilling "Jayne Mansfield's Car." Credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment
A massive cast, led by co-writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (second from right), makes up the messy but thrilling “Jayne Mansfield’s Car.”
Credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment

‘Jayne Mansfield’s Car’
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Duvall
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

It’s been 12 years since Billy Bob Thornton last directed a film, namely 2001’s largely ignored “Daddy and Them.” Since then a lot has changed: One of our era’s finest actors, he’s gone from welcome movie staple to an only occasional presence, in part due to an obviously waning interest in both movies and being nice during interviews. Justly lauded though his acting may be, his real passion is music. Honestly he can’t be faulted for that, although it’s nice to see him both in front of and behind the camera again with “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” a most confounding film in ways both productive and less so.

Written with his usual partner, Tom Epperson, this ensemble film starts off innocently. Set in 1969 Alabama, it hangs with the massive Caldwell clan, lorded over by patriarch Jim (Robert Duvall) and filled out by button-up Jim Jr. (Robert Patrick), aging hippie Carroll (Kevin Bacon) and suspiciously quiet Skip (Thornton). News comes that their mother, who walked out on them to marry an Englishman, Kingsley (John Hurt), has died. The body is to return to America accompanied by her other family, meaning the two broods, who’ve avoided each other for so long, suddenly have to hang.

Set over a series of days, over picnics and nights sitting around, plus the inevitable funeral, it initially seems to be a nice party movie, wrangling up a massive pile of talented stars and letting them just bounce off eachother. That describes the first half-hour, at which point it all of a sudden goes… strange. For instance, what appeared to be a low-key, hesitant courtship between Skip and Kingsley’s daughter Camilla (Frances O’Connor) suddenly reveals first that Skip is a whole mess of a lot weirder (read: kinkier) than was assumed. Then it turns out Camilla isn’t so restrained either.

The scenes between Skip and Camilla are the film’s high points, thrilling in their leftfield turns that still serve to deepen and enrich two characters who keep surprising us. (For what it’s worth, Thornton also winds up rocking cinema’s arguable most inventive “O” face.) There are plenty other out-there bits, some inspired, others genuinely too far afield. (A scene involving Skip greeting his father shirtless, with his medals pinned to his flesh, probably read better on paper.)

The film’s unwieldiness isn’t a liability, though. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to say about its most dominant theme, namely war and its impact on three generations, but that’s a good thing — it belies a real curiosity. Most of the men have served, and there’s vast disagreements among them, particularly between the grouchy, condescending old-timers and their more conflicted, sometimes fragile sons. Even with the occasional speechifying, the script refrains from offering a single message, interested instead in watching characters bicker. “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” isn’t slick, and sometimes crazy, but personality goes a long way, particularly one that needs to be heard from more.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

NYPD looking for man they say assaulted elderly…

      The New York City Police Department is asking for the public's assistance in locating a Hispanic male 20's wanted in connection with…

Local

Three arrested after allegedly assaulting off-duty officer in…

Three men were arrested early Saturday morning after allegedly assaulting an off-duty officer at a Bronx bodega, and the NYPD is asking for the public's…

Local

Healthcare union creates vibrant West Indian Day Parade…

Volunteers worked almost around the clock through the weekend, putting the flashy finishing touches on hundreds of costume pieces 1199SEIU members will wear while marching…

National

Top 10 most hipster college campuses

Hipsters are everywhere these days. You can't walk down the anywhere anymore without seeing a pair of skinny jeans on a handlebar mustachioed 20-something, a…

Arts

Theater: Discouraging 'Poor Behavior'

Theresa Rebeck's latest off-Broadway play, about two couples sparring on a weekend getaway, repeats a few mistakes of her past.

Gossip

Chef Todd English arrested for DWI in the…

Celebrity chef Todd English is facing DWI charges after a traffic stop on Sunday.

Movies

Box office: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is 2014's…

This weekend "The Guardians of the Galaxy" passed the fourth "Transformers" movie to become the highest grossing film of 2014.

Gossip

Spears back with controversial ex?

Is Briteny Spears back with Adnan Ghalib?

Sports

Novak Djokovic feeds off US Open crowd to…

Novak Djokovic isn't a native New Yorker, but he sure knows how to use the U.S. Open crowd to his advantage.

NFL

Odell Beckham still 'weeks away,' Tom Coughlin angry…

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has fought a losing battle against the media all preseason over the status of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

Education

These college students think breakfast is the most…

  It should be no surprise that the city that never sleeps is also home to the most students who like to order food in…

Sex

When it comes to dating, height matters

Does a man’s height really matter when it comes to dating? Unfortunately - according to a new study - the answer looks like it’s yes.…

Travel

10 free apps to make traveling easier

Finding the nearest bathroom, calculating currency exchanges and locating your departure gate must have been difficult for travelers of previous generations. But we wouldn't know,…

Travel

How to get a seat upgrade to business…

It used to be much easier to upgrade your coach seat to business or even first class, but rigid rules and tighter schedules have made…