Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast War of the Worlds was so convincing, some listeners were persuaded into thinking a martian invasion really was at large. Brave New Jersey, a quirky small-scale comedy from budding director Jody Lambert, sets a funny fictitious story in this historical footnote, resulting in a sweet and refreshing flick that stays faithful to its period.
Admittedly, Brave New Jersey has limited range, and it’s tame compared to most comedies. That’s forgivable and fitting, though, considering the population of Lullaby, New Jersey is modest and mild as overseen by meek Mayor Clark Hill (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale). At the end of a typical day, War of the Worlds airs and it immediately strikes creeping fear in Lullaby. Confused reactions ensue across intersecting stories with the majority of townsfolk agreeing to retaliate and prepare for battle.
Thoughtful set designs and costuming are strengths that stick out, but the treasure in Brave New Jersey is its subtle sense of humour and big heart. The simplistic screenplay (written by Lambert and Michael Dowling) is frank, allowing the cast to have fun with lines that are observant to the panic or honestly inappropriate when reacting in the moment.
Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect 2), Mel Rodriguez (Fat), and Dan Bakkedahl (TV’s Life in Pieces) give tender, amusing performances that suggest this absurd situational humour is – most definitely – in their wheelhouse. However, it’s Tony Hale who flourishes as the lead. He’s given a fixed underdog arc as he vies for the attention of a local sweetheart, but his kindly middle-aged demeanour gives the formula zest.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie