The Georgia-made movie “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” treads unlightly on death, divorce and dysfunction. There’s drug abuse, simmering family bitterness, wounds seen and unseen. Plus the car Mansfield died in.
Now for the really depressing part. It’s opening today (Friday, Sept. 13) in very limited release: according to the studio and confirmed by Fandango, it'll be shown in one theater in metro Atlanta, AMC Barrett Commons. (If you want to take a little road trip, it'll also be shown at the West Theatre in Cedartown, where much of the movie was filmed.
“I never make the kind of movies that are blockbusters,” said Billy Bob Thornton, who co-wrote, directed and starred in the movie. “I was raised on Southern literature. In a sense, I make books on film. That’s not real popular.”
The movie, set in 1960s Alabama, was filmed mostly outside of metro Atlanta, in Cedartown, LaGrange and Griffin. Mansfield’s “death car” makes its appearance in a road-show scene filmed in Decatur.
“I saw Jayne Mansfield’s car when I was a kid. I grew up in a small, Southern town,” said Thornton, a native of Hot Springs, Ark. “I always like culture clashes. I wanted to make a movie about the romanticism of tragedy.”
The movie stars Robert Duvall as the curmudgeonly patriarch of an eccentric Southern clan. Two of his sons, played by Thornton and Kevin Bacon, are veterans who came back from the battlefield scarred inside and out. A third straight-arrow son, played by Robert Patrick, seems to resent missing out even as the country confronts the new conflict in Vietnam. The funeral of the sons’ mother, who left their dad for an Englishman, brings everyone awkwardly together, along with their British counterparts.
Turns out families feud across the pond, too.
“I wanted to make a movie about how different generations are affected by war,” Thornton said. Given the dark subject matter, he turned to Ron White for much-needed levity. White’s character drinks, smokes, casually offends and laughs a lot. Basically, he plays himself.
“Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” which debuted at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, marks Thornton’s return to directing after more than a decade.
“If I had made this movie right after I made ‘Slingblade,’ it might have done what ‘Slingblade’ did,” he said, referring to his 1996 hit. “We’re living in a different time. Studios make movies for younger audiences. We kind of have ourselves to blame.”
We asked, given Georgia’s film-friendly tax policy, if he might consider future projects. Answer: Mmm-hmm.
“Atlanta’s really become the Hollywood of the South,” he said. “There’s constantly something going on. The great thing about Atlanta is it’s a cosmopolitan city but it can also have a small-town feel. For us Southerners, it always feels good to be in the South.”