'Jayne Mansfield's Car': Hollywood Movie Set in 1969 With a Vietnam War Theme

The new Hollywood film, Jayne Mansfield’s Car,   has an all-star cast including Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton (who also co-wrote and directed the movie), and Kevin Bacon. It’s set in 1969 in a small town in Alabama and one of its themes is inter-generational strife centered on the Vietnam War.

The head of the family, Duvall (on the far left in the poster above) , is a World War I veteran and an over-the-top war hawk. One of his sons, Bacon (in sunglasses, fifth from the right ), is a World War II vet turned dope-smoking, anti-war hippie.

The male characters, USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig wrote  in her mixed-to-negative review, “are heavy on testosterone and extremism — everyone is either rabidly for or against the Vietnam War, and either a patriot or a druggie. The two main female characters are on hand only to serve sexual needs…. Most of the characters fall into Southern or British stereotypes and spend excessive time in talky introspection.”

Because the movie’s “several female characters are appendages to men gassing on at length about war and military glory, ‘Jayne Mansfield’s Car’ could be described as a macho weepie, ” The New York Times ‘ Stephen Holden wrote in his mixed-but-positive review . “But in its best moments, you can see what the film might have been with half a dozen fewer characters. Behind the clunky machinery is a lyrical meditation on life, death, heroism, regret and forgiveness written in a florid style that might be described as Tennessee Williams on testosterone.”

This  “Vietnam-era Southern family saga, ” Robert Abele wrote in his mostly negative Los Angeles Times review , “is old-fashioned big-cast melodrama, treated by its director as if it were a nostalgic heirloom.” The movie “even gets away with its classicist vibe for a good while too.

“The pot unrealized ambition, pent-up emotion and cultural friction is adequately stirred for a while, but by a certain point the deliberate pokiness and lackadaisical attitude toward character development and resolution feels like spilled food that never gets completely wiped up. With actors this good, however, there’s rarely a pinched expression, heartfelt speech or laugh line that isn’t at least partly sold, even if the stunted-male psychologizing at the expense of the under-written women grows tiresome.”

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