After complaining bitterly about James Franco’s slap-dash Southern stereotyping, I am happy to report a much more subtle and authentic story set in our area. “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” was written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton last year but was just released.
Set in 1969, the premise — of societal turmoil spilling over into the lives of a troubled family — promised a didactic period piece; but delivered interesting characters, excellent performances and, perhaps most importantly, decent Southern accents.
Robert Duvall plays a divorced Alabama patriarch keeping close tabs on his three sons, two of whom reside with him in the family mansion. Robert Patrick plays the straight laced, married eldest while Billy Bob Thornton plays Skip, a loose cannon kook that it is impressively difficult to fully understand at first. Across town, Kevin Bacon is a hippie protesting the Vietnam War to the chagrin of his father. All of the men in the family are veterans, and this figures prominently in each of their stories, as father-son relationships change, and don’t change, with each generation.
Events are set in motion when a phone call comes from England informing the family that the mother, who left her husband and kids for another man in England years before, has passed away. Her second family is carrying out her wishes to have her remains returned to Alabama for burial, and the families face the prospect of meeting for the first time.
Things truly get interesting from there, and although I almost complained that the film was too long, I now see that the pace allowed the relationships to properly progress. Foremost for me was the relationship between the two husbands of the deceased. This could be the excellent writing, but it didn’t hurt that Robert Duvall and John Hurt play the American and British husbands, and they have many lovely scenes together.
While the slow build of the story was effective, there was also an abruptness to events employed that was extremely realistic and moving. We might be getting to the meat of a family matter one minute only to find everyone gone in the cold light of the next day. Although not as unforgettable as Thornton’s “Sling Blade,” this film told an old tale in a compelling and authentic way.