×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Brave New Jersey’

A winning comedy that revolves around the mother of all fake news, Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' broadcast.

Director:
Jody Lambert
With:
Tony Hale, Anna Camp, Sam Jaeger, Heather Burns, Dan Bakkedahl, Raymond J. Barry, Erika Alexander, Mel Rodriguez.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4660172/

Long before Trump coined the term “fake news,” there was Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” which convinced thousands (if not millions) of listeners they were hearing actual news bulletins about a Martian invasion. Several books and films (most notably, “The Night That Panicked America,” Joseph Sargent’s terrific 1975 TV movie, and “War of the Worlds,” Cathleen O’Connell’s shrewdly constructed 2013 PBS documentary) have emphasized the infectious terror that the broadcast inadvertently sparked among gullible folks who tuned in late and missed the introduction that clearly identified it as a presentation of Welles’ “Mercury Theatre on the Air.” But in the world according to “Brave New Jersey,” Jody Lambert’s uneven but ultimately winning comedy about small-town channel surfers who missed the intro and assumed the worst on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, a little bit of terror might not be such a bad thing.

To be sure, the opening scenes are not promising. The setting is Lullaby, N.J., a fictional farming community not so far from Grover’s Mill, where Welles’ Martians purportedly landed, and the period is all too insistently evoked by improbably pristine costumes and vehicles. Worse, Lambert (working from a script he co-wrote with Michael Dowling) and his cast evidence uncertainty while trying to hit the sweet spot between exaggerated sincerity and straight-faced absurdity, setting a tone best described as Coen Brothers lite. The best they can do, through pointed references and responses to the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, is place the narrative in historical context by suggesting why an increasingly paranoid populace might be susceptible to reports of attacks by enemy aliens.

It takes a good 15 or 20 minutes for the movie to settle into a consistent groove, and to generate anything like a rooting interest in characters who require the threat of impending apocalypse to shake free of inhibitions, compromises, bad decisions and anything else that has heretofore constricted their lives. Among the more engaging of the revitalized: Clark Hill (Tony Hale of “Veep” and “Arrested Development”), the nebbishy but conscientious mayor who pines for the loyal but vaguely discontented spouse of oily businessman Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger); Lorraine Davidson (Heather Burns), Paul’s wife, who is a great deal more accessible after her husband beats a cowardly retreat out of town; and Rev. Ray Rogers (Dan Bakkedahl), whose stalled faith gets a miraculous jump-start when he construes the Martian invasion as a manifestation of the divine.

A few snatches of dialogue are distractingly anachronistic (“This could be it for us, life-wise!”), but there’s nothing at all jarring, and quite a bit that’s satisfying, about the matter-of-fact way some well-drawn (and well-played) female characters — including Anna Camp as a Sunday School teacher who rebels against her condescending fiancé to take up arms against the extraterrestrial menace — are emboldened and empowered by the prospect of annihilation. Erika Alexander makes a singularly strong impression as Helen, a farmwife who, in what arguably is the movie’s best scene, more or less backhands Rev. Rogers, and the audience, into remembering that some people take their relationship to God, and their fear of murderous Martians, extremely seriously.

Credit also must go to veteran character actor Raymond J. Barry, who steals every scene that isn’t bolted to the floor as Capt. Ambrose E. Collins, a decorated World War I veteran who, after surviving wartime horrors, isn’t at all afraid of Martian invaders — and who, even after he learns the “invasion” is just the stuff of radio drama, continues to lead his fellow townspeople in a collective response to the invaders because he wants them to be all they can be. This is a role that easily could have been played for laughs, and Collins is all the more impressive because, no joke, he plays for keeps.

Film Review: 'Brave New Jersey'

Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Aug. 4, 2017. (At Nashville Film Festival.) Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: A Gravitas Ventures release of The Shot Clock production. Producers: Jen Roskind, Taylor Williams. Executive producers: Denise Chamian, Luke Daniels, Brandon K. Hogan, Alan Pao.

Crew: Director: Jody Lambert. Screenplay: Lambert, Michael Dowling. Camera (color): Corey Walter. Editor: Matt Diezel. Music: Dennis Lambert, Matthew Logan, Vasquez, Kelly Winrich.

With: Tony Hale, Anna Camp, Sam Jaeger, Heather Burns, Dan Bakkedahl, Raymond J. Barry, Erika Alexander, Mel Rodriguez.

More Film

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

  • ‘Flowers’ Director Baptiste Petit-Gats Interview

    Baptiste Petit-Gats: ‘Editing Taught Me How to Write for Film’

    France’s Baptiste Petit-Gats is an hyphenate that keeps himself plenty busy editing, photographing, writing and directing. The bulk of his editing gigs up until now have been in documentary film work, evident in the way he shot and edited his own short film, participating in the MyFrenchFilmFestival, “Flowers.” In the film, Petit-Gats tells the heartbreaking [...]

  • Fanny Litard, Jérémy Trouilh on ‘Blue

    France’s Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh Discuss MyFFF Suburban Fable ‘Blue Dog’

    French filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh met at university while studying political science before diverging towards separate careers. Trouilh trained in documentary filmmaking; Liatard worked on urban artistic projects in Lebanon and France. They eventually joined back up to film three shorts: “Gagarine,” a Sundance Channel Shorts Competition Jury Prize winner in 2016; “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content