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3.5 stars... The long shadows of WWII
on 17 January 2014
"Jayne Mansfield's Car" (2012 US release; 122 min.) brings the story of two families, one American, one British, who seemingly couldn't be further apart. As the film opens, we are told that we are in "Alabama, 1969" and we get to know the Caldwell clan, with Jim Caldwell (played by Robert Duvall) as the patriarch, and his kids, including brothers Skip (played by Billy Bob Thornton), Carroll (played by Kevin Bacon) and Alan (played by Marshall Allman). One day, a phone call comes in the England, with the news that Jim's ex-wife (she had divorced him and remarried some guy in England) has died and her will was to be buried in Alabama. Her English husband and his (adult) son and daughter are soon arriving in Alabama, and a clash of cultures sets in. To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, this film was directed and co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, so you can say that this is his labor of love. Second, it takes quite a while for this film to "find its groove" but when it does, I was actually taken in by it. Indeed, while there is quite a bit of attention to the culture clash and the fact that Americans and Brits are "separated by language" (Skip to the British woman: "your accent sure is pretty!"), the main theme that emerges is that all the men were involved in one way or another in WWII. The best moment of the film comes when Skip and the British woman are alone, and Skip finally lets his guard go and recounts the full story of what happened to him as a Navy pilot in WWII, more than 25 years ago. Be ready to be surprised...
This film was announced sometime in Fall of 2013 at my local art house theatre here in Cincinnati as "coming soon", but for whatever reason never made it here. I had pretty much forgotten about this when I happen to notice the DVD, so I just had to pick it up and check it out. Bottom line: yes, there are weak stretches in this film, in particular in the first hour, but the second hour made up for it in my book. If you are interested in a different take on how war affects people's lives over the long haul and in some unexpected ways, I'd say "Jayne Mansfield's Car" is worth checking out.