Brave New Jersey (2017)
Brave New Jersey (2017)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: April 8th, 2017 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jody Lambert Actors: Tony Hale, Heather Burns, Anna Camp, Paul Davison, Dan Bakkedahl, Raymond J. Barry, Mel Rodriguez, Grace Kaufman, Matt Oberg, Noah Lomax

 


 

“B

rave New Jersey” heavy-handedly delivers its message that in times of great peril, one discovers who they truly are. Here, in the face of certain death, each member of a small northeastern town undergoes an about-face in morals and attitude. But this predictable approach to representing romantic comedy characters only succeeds half of the time. Despite the occasional stumbles into awkward exchanges and the unfolding of predictable relationship outcomes, “Brave New Jersey” offers bouts of comedic brilliance immersed in the sensationally captivating real-life event of Orson Welles’ historic radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.”

It’s October 30th, 1938, in the serene town of Lullaby, New Jersey, and downtrodden mayor Clark Hill (Tony Hale) saunters about preparing for the unveiling of the Rotolactor, a grandiose cow-milking apparatus. When a radio announcement warns of an imminent attack on New Jersey by hostile Martians, Hill sees his sleepy city descend into hysteria and chaos. Dairy kingpin Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger) drives off in a panic, leaving behind his wife Lorraine (Heather Burns) and daughter Ann (Grace Kaufman); bedraggled Reverend Ray (Dan Bakkedahl) loses what’s left of his faith and abandons his congregation; and prim and proper schoolteacher Peg Prickett (Anna Camp) sheds her inhibitions to forsake demure fiancé Chardy (Matt Oberg) for bad boy Sparky (Evan Jonigkeit). As Lullaby’s citizens profess pent-up desires and face the harsh realities of their own mortality, the town’s militarized cuckoo, Captain Ambrose P. Collins (Raymond J. Barry), attempts to band them together into a makeshift regiment to battle the approaching aggressors.

“Everything you’re about to see is true.” With this line of narration, it’s virtually certain that embellishments and caricatures will ensue. And though there are broad strokes of overdone hysterics and commonplace jokes about small towns and the eclectic people that inhabit them, “Brave New Jersey” handles the comic elements of this historical event quite soundly. It centers around an ensemble of quirky, vastly different personas, yet somehow many of them feel terribly ordinary. The first immediate fault is the depictions of these roles; instead of crafting individualistic, idiosyncratic people, the characters fall into expected stereotypes. A rich couple, a henpecked mayor, a drunk preacher, a trio of elderly card players, an orotund sheriff, mischievous preteens, and a fanatical veteran aren’t as singular as they are mere staples for this filmic environment.

Nevertheless, the period piece sets, costumes, vehicles, props, and other practical visuals are excellently handled, transporting audiences back to a time when a delirious hoax like this seemed more understandable. “Is God sending the Martians to kill us?” Additionally, the examination of varying reactions to panicky scenarios is engaging, particularly when borderline insanity becomes the default method of coping. Strangely, however, there’s a preoccupation with romance; once the terror of an impending invasion sets in, all the players seem to partner up romantically – but not merely as if spending life’s remaining minutes with a significant other was a priority. It’s essentially instinctual.

The end of the world brings out notes of confidence or satisfaction or revelations for some, while others succumb to desperation, violence, and hatred. Since the comic moments are generally strong, it appears unfitting that one role specifically should turn so mean-spirited and rebellious – qualities that might be believable but are far from necessary in this mostly light-hearted affair. Imaginations run wild (while the ever-present music keeps increasing in volume), but funny craziness looks far more effective than bitter paranoia. And even though Tony Hale in the lead role easily carries the entirety of the picture, the plethora of supporting parts generates moderate pacing issues which should not have been apparent in a 90-minute comedy endeavor.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10