Yesterday, Kris and I looked over a number of upcoming potential prestige films that, despite high-profile festival appointments, are still seeking a foothold in the distribution market. Today, coincidentally enough, a trailer has arrived that handily proves just how long the journey from a festival premiere to an actual release can be — even for a relatively big-name project. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Billy Bob Thornton’s “Jayne Mansfield’s Car.”
This deep-fried slab of Southern quirkiness made its first appearance in Competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February last year — that’s 18 months ago, for the math-challenged — and is only now inching its way toward US audiences, with a VOD release planned for August 20, and limited theatrical on September 13. Reviews at Berlin were mixed, and Thornton’s stock as an actor and filmmaker has dropped significantly since the 1990s. (Remember when his 1996 directorial debut, “Sling Blade,” beat “The English Patient” to the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar?) Still, you wouldn’t expect a film with an ensemble that includes Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt and Thornton himself to disappear from view entirely.
If you’re guessing that the film has languished in limbo for this long because it isn’t very good, I’m afraid you’d be right — but that’s not to say “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” isn’t interesting. “So wilfully random in structure and elusive in subtext that it”s easy to project the influence of anyone from Wes Anderson to Wim Wenders onto it,” I wrote in my Berlin review, “it”s as genuinely inscrutable a curio as any bit of world-cinema esoterica in the Berlin lineup.”
The trailer below, meanwhile, does a good job of disguising the film’s untempered weirdness, giving the impression of a straightforward rambling-family drama: set in 1969, it’s about two estranged halves of an extended family (one American, one British) unharmoniously united for a funeral. But there’s plenty the trailer keeps hidden, including a delightful performance by Frances O’Connor as a frisky stepsister who seduces Thornton’s slow-witted Vietnam vet. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the film, but I’m glad it’s seeing the light of day.