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USA 2012
Directed by
Billy Bob Thornton
122 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Jayne Mansfield's Car

The Southern American drama, whether it be To Kill A Mockingbird or The Help is almost always a rewarding category of film. The strongly rural sensibility that characterises it means that we are treated to leisurely-paced stories of ordinary folk, perfect vehicles for well-honed writing and performances. Jayne Mansfield’s Car well fits th-s bill

Robert Duvall plays Jim Caldwell, the gruff paterfamilias of well-to-do Tennessee Williams-style (think Cat On A Hot Tin Roof ) family that includes three sons (Kevin Bacon, Robert Patrick and Thornton) and a daughter (Katherine LaNasa) from all of whom he is obdurately distant.  When his former wife, Naomi, dies, her body is sent from England, to where she absconded and started a second family, to be buried “amongst her own”. She is accompanied by her second husband (John Hurt) and his grown children from another marriage (Ray Stevenson and Frances O'Connor). As the various family members come together for the funeral there are all kinds of inter-generational conflicts going on, not to mention the hostility Jim feels towards the man whom he regards as having stolen his wife.

Thornton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Epperson weaves the many characters together with a deftness that, almost too neatly resolves its many facets but which at the same time is both engagingly intelligent and consistently entertaining (in this respect it might also not unfairly be described as a kind of Southern American Death At A Funeral  without the overt comedy, although it is nevertheless consistently amusing) thanks to the strong characterisations and the tip-top ensemble playing, not to mention some nicely judged off-beat ideas such as Jim’s fixation with car wrecks, a hobby that gives the film its title.

One feels that Thornton has put a lot of his own experience into this film and it is an investment that has certainly paid off. I believe that it did not get a theatrical release in Australia but if you like this kind of fare, it is well worth checking out.




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