Brave New Jersey
Review by Ray Schillaci
Director/co-writer Jody Lambert and co-writer Michael Dowling deliver a wonderful nostalgic tale based on the ridiculous premise that Martians were out to invade New Jersey in 1938, and the panic that ensued. Sounds far-fetched, but on that year, the night before Halloween, Orson Welles scared the bee-jeebies out of people with his War of the Worlds broadcast. Lambert and Dowling take us to the small town of Lullaby, only a couple of hours aways from Grover Mills, New Jersey where the supposed Martian attack takes place. Here is a sleepy little hamlet with all its wonderful eccentricities that will eventually be set into chaos when the news reaches them, and oh what fun we will have being observers to this event.
Lambert’s movie feels like an enjoyable throwback to the early days of Spielberg and Zemeckis, and even going as far back as Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). The town, and its cast of characters are carefully laid out before us with a careful eye to detail, from the loving look back to a simpler time with careful detail to sets, wardrobe and props to the lyrical soundtrack provided by Dennis Lambert, legendary musician, songwriter (“One Tin Soldier” among many others) and record producer. Great care has gone into recreating this timeline, and the actors are absolutely endearing.
The town’s mayor, Clark Hill, played with a bumbling sweetness by Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) is the picture’s everyman. Hale practically channels the iconic actor Jimmy Stewart to bring the sensitivity of his part to the screen. Although not exactly a rock when the news hits about the Martians, we cannot help but pull for him with his struggle attempting to keep calm during the crisis while the town is being whipped up into a frenzy by retired Colonel Ambrose P. Collins, played with gusto by Raymond J. Barry (Training Day, Born on the Fourth of July).
Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect, True Blood) is quite saucy as school teacher Peg Prickett, who has a naughty side just itching to get out. Her boyfriend, Chardy Edwards, comes across like white bread; predictable and possibly too boring for Peg. Matt Oberg is goofy as Chardy and appears to genuinely struggle to make Peg happy.
Then there is the delightfully daffy Dan Bakkedahl (Hitman: Agent 47, The Heat) as Reverend Ray Rogers, who appears to be tiring of his duties of the cloth. Heather Burns (You’ve Got Mail, Miss Congeniality) is the harried and dutiful wife and mother, Lorraine Davison, who is damn near perfect for the era she is playing in. We root for her, as well as Clark, and secretly hope that they somehow get together so she can dump her obnoxious traveling salesman husband, played by Sam Jaeger (Parenthood, Lucky Number Slevin). Throw in mischievous kids, a fumbling sheriff and an assortment of memorable residents, and you’re practically guaranteed a good time throughout the near hour-and-a-half that goes by very quickly as everyone has their true selves revealed during a faux invasion of little green men.
What makes the whole affair so intriguing is we come to realize this broadcast took place during a time when the radio was our primary source of mass communication. So, one could easily see how Welles and company perpetuated the hoax of the century. The few pieces of broadcast used are very effective as we see the very different reactions of the residents of Lullaby. A sense of devastation, hopelessness, and confusion raises the tension level in the town, all the while still remaining funny and entertaining (since we are the only ones in on the joke).
But, writers Lambert and Dowling go a step further. They have us ponder the reveals of each character, their actions and reactions. This is not just a simple feel good movie. Brave New Jersey is thoughtful, contemplative, and comes with a big heart. This is exactly the kind of movie that people say they don’t make anymore. The kind of film that charms its audience, makes people think, and has us running out telling everybody that in a summer of “must see” films, here is the one that really counts.
Directed by: Jody Lambert
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Run Time: 86 Minutes
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures