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The modern day internet hoax, as convincing as many are, don’t have a thing on Orson Wells, who pulled of the most famous of them all, without using a single image. While the event and the outcome of that radio show have fallen into legend and have been greatly exaggerated over the many decades since, there is a kind of charm to it all in believing that whole populations were duped. That’s where Brave New Jersey sets its sites, spinning a mostly amusing little comedy/drama that is all homespun charm but very little satire.
On the eve another expected typical Halloween in 1938, the small town of Lullaby, New Jersey sets about doing what small towns do, with quirky but humble Mayor Clark Hill (Tony Hill) out and about. He’s under the thumb of local dairy magnate Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger) who has earned the town the moniker “Chosen as the Home of the Rotolactor,” the rotolactor being a new-fangled milking machine. Clark’s smitten with Paul’s disillusioned wife Lorraine (Heather Burns) and offers her selected readings to which she clearly takes to. Meanwhile, Peg Prickett (Anna Camp) is the schoolteacher engaged to Chardy Edwards (Matt Oberg), who expects her to follow traditional ways, not giving her much of a future while Reverend Ray (Dan Bakkedahl) is having a crisis of faith. All of this comes secondary though when that night, on the radio, they hear a news report that the nearby town of Grover’s Mill is under attack from invading Martians, not realizing it’s only a radio show. Chaos ensues.
Directed by Jody Lambert, Brave New Jersey portends to be one thing but is in fact something else. It claims to be about the mayhem of a misunderstood radio broadcast, and that premise is certainly the foundation, but what it’s really about are relationships. It’s an interesting direction to take considering the loads of potential the story comes packed with. Perhaps the zaniness of Tim Burton‘s Mars Attacks! lingers over the project and expectations of such taint what the film might actually be, but the film never really strikes with any biting social commentary, despite some interesting opportunities and a character from another country. Lambert chooses to use the concept as a catalyst for revival instead of panic, as everyone believes it might be their last night alive and takes the chance to do what they really feel.
Behind all this is WWI veteran Captain Ambrose P.Collins (Raymond J. Barry), who is a little more weathered and aware of most everyone else in town, and seizes the opportunity to unite the town into feeling alive as it were, though a couple of kids get in on the act as well. It’s easy to see where it’s all going from there with plenty of setup in the first act that provides all the pieces necessary to figure it all out well before it comes, and while it has more than enough ambition, it can feel a little too pastoral to really feel authentic. That’s probably the point of course as the movie stays safe, never really going for big laughs or hitting the big drama. By the time the finale arrives, everything sort of falls into place and all expectations are met, leaving this a predictable experience, despite its pleasant, breezy charisma.
Movie description: Brave New Jersey is a 2017 comedy about a small New Jersey town on the night of a realistic radio broadcast, which leads millions of listeners to believe the U.S. is being invaded by Martians.
Director(s): Jody Lambert
Actor(s): Anna Camp, Tony Hale, Heather Burns
Genre: Comedy, Drama