The best elements in Billy Bob Thornton‘s Jayne Mansfield’s Car “are the performances from Robert Duvall and John Hurt,” London Evening Standard critic Derek Malcom wrote last February from Berlin. “To see these two pitted against each other is sheer cinematic joy. To watch Billy Bob, Kevin Bacon and Tippi Hedren too is an additional pleasure.”
Malcolm didn’t do handstands over this “strange Alabama version of Chekhov, set in the 1960s,” but he was moderately okay with it. “The film is about the two contrasting families and cultures, the politics of the time and awkward secrets. It succeeds in being funny, sad and monstrously quirky, sometimes at the same moment.”
“Duvall plays Jim Caldwell, the head of a well-off Southern family whose ex-wife has died in England but wanted to be buried back home. He hasn’t seen her for 20 years and now has to play reluctant host to her English family and the husband, Bedford (Hurt), who took his wife away.
“Straight out of Gone With the Wind, says Bedford’s flighty young granddaughter when she first views the Caldwell mansion. Later, she dances nude in front of Jim’s badly damaged war veteran son (Billy Bob). This instantly makes him feel life is worth living again, and small wonder.
“The film is given its odd title because the characters played by Duvall and Hurt visit an exhibition of the car in which Jayne Mansfield died and discuss whether the whole of her head or just the top of it was torn off in the crash.
“The film is arguably too long, seems to have at least four possible endings, and is patchily written by Billy Bob. But it is still memorable for its acting, its persistent refusal to go obvious ways and its wonderful way of playing one culture against another, often to the ironic detriment of both.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney trashed it.