Comedy is not easy. There is a delicate balance between relatable experiences and outlandish circumstances that requires talent at the top of their game to perform correctly. If a comedy is forced, it’s unbearable to watch. However, if it is able to breathe in an organic way, a masterpiece unfolds. Brave New Jersey, the new film by Jody Lambert which premiered at the Austin Film Festival on Saturday, is that movie for 2016.
Using the famed radio broadcast of the Orson Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds as a backdrop, Lambert and his co-writer Michael Dowling created a fictionalized hysteria one town in New Jersey might have experienced on that fateful night. Instead of allowing the ridiculous situation to lead to farcical circumstances, they allowed the comedy to breathe.
“I think we made a point in the script and film to never wink at this, we were going to take this seriously. The characters don’t know they are in a comedy, they aren’t trying to make jokes,” Lambert explains. “If the script is funny, and then you get actors of this caliber, that’s when things really being to sing. We trusted the material and knew that we had the actors who were the perfect interpreters of the material.”
Actress Heather Burns agreed that casting was monumental. “We were all these different instruments. We ended up connecting and playing off of each other in different ways and it brought an ease to the job because if you know you have a talented cast, it is just like ‘let’s jam.’”
Fellow cast members Anna Camp and Matt Oberg, playing the possibly doomed lovers in the film, used this well blended orchestra as a tool to push their creative talent to its peak. “It was a great assembly, and even though we didn’t get to work with a lot of the cast, knowing they were at the top of their game and killing it, you didn’t want to be the one to drop the ball,” Oberg added.
To just express that this comedy of errors is funny, is a disservice to the talent assembled for this film. These comedic geniuses may be known as ensemble actors, but this film allows them to steal the spotlight during each of their scenes. The film is instinctual, and while these powerhouses are at the top of their game as their characters, they are never fighting each other for the spotlight. That concept may be foreign to some, but definitely not to a family full of respect.
“Normally, when you shoot a movie, people just come in and out, like ships passing in the night, and you don’t really interact with anyone who isn’t in your plot line,” Burns explains. “What was so great was that most of us were there the whole time and we all had to form a really tight group. We did become a community and it shows in the film.”
“It also helped because, like Heather was saying, you have a lot of actors who aren’t working together, yet you want everybody to be in the same movie,” Lambert adds. “The fact that they all liked each other, got along, and socialized, you could feel the personalities come together and it helped in editing. It felt like a small town, like they were a part of the same community.”
One could attribute the family atmosphere to the connection formed, but in most situations like this the cast are taking the lead from the ones at the top. Lambert and Dowling came together to write the story, and worked on giving each an equal opportunity to express their ideas on the story. There was constant back and forth during the writing process, mainly because they lived in other cities, but there was a constant give and take.
“It’s challenging, but where it’s rewarding is when someone comes up with a great moment you couldn’t come up with and integrates so perfectly into the script. Its like having two brains,” Lambert says. “If you both are on the same page, it’ll lead to something better. It’s about collaborating, and that’s the fun part of making movies. You can’t do it alone, it’s not a novel, and the more talented people you’re surrounded by and on the same page with, hopefully it’ll lead to something great.”
Something great was conceived on the page, and ultimately on set, with this film. The characters were fully developed and a joy to watch. With the trust and comfort created at the highest level, the actors were able to leap without worry into the depths of their characters. While each character had their own emotional arc throughout the film, the most entertaining to watch was the relationship between Oberg and Camp’s characters.
“I love peg because it’s so great to go from a school teacher in 1938 who doesn’t really know that there is another way to live life, and she’s relatively content to then realizing that there is so much within her that she hasn’t yet to discover and to get the opportunity to go there and live her life the way she wants to even if it’s just for one night,” Camp says.
“It’s almost like Peg is grateful for an excuse to break out of her cage, and Chardy is the guy who even when he’s faced with really crazy circumstances does not alter from the path that he thinks his life should take or the life he thinks he deserves,” Oberg adds. “I can relate to that. I think that’s a legit human reaction. It’s a valid and interesting choice to walk through.”
This comedy is birthed out of reality. The hysteria seen in the film was experienced by the population, maybe not to this extreme, but enough that it became a part of our history. The truth at the heart of the story and characters may be one reason why the film is so enjoyable to watch. It might be hard to imagine the world in 1938, but it’s not hard to imagine how we might react in the same situation.
“Watching it felt more relevant than ever with what’s going on right now. While we’re shooting you’re not thinking about the election or the state of the world and the US, but with an audience you get that uneasiness and unrest in the mob mentality,” Camp says. “When people collectively come together and the power behind that it’s scary. I think our film hits on that really well.”
Ultimately comedy that reflects the real world are always the most humorous. Life can be so ridiculous at times that circumstances seem made up, and if you can’t laugh at that, life becomes less enjoyable.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Fons PR