In 1938, the world believed they were under attack, but not from the threat of Germany’s regime, from Martians. Orson Welles’ reading of a modernized version of The War of the Worlds on the radio caused a nationwide panic, but none panicked more than the citizens of Lullaby, New Jersey.
Screenwriters Jody Lambert and Michael Dowling explore what the town might have gone through in their new film Brave New Jersey. Within a myriad of characters, the audience experiences how different people might have handled a life altering event. Under the pressures of fear from an immediate demise, our true character forces itself to come forward. In this exploration of humanity, we find out who we are at our core, and for this film it was in a very humorous way.
Brave New Jersey may be based on a terrifying, or perceived terrifying, point in our history, but the film is a genius comedy. The humor is based in reality, manifesting in an organic way that the situations don’t feel forced. Along with a highly talented cast, this combination has caused this to be one of the best comedies of 2016.
The cast consists of some of the best comedic actors working today, and to list them would sound like the line-up for an All-Star sports team. Lambert, as director, serendipitously placed the perfect actor in a character that utilizes their talent in a subtle yet masterful way. The story unfolds naturally in an ultimate game of ‘what if.’ True comedy can be hard to achieve, and the enjoyment can be lost in the forcefulness of some stories. That was definitely not the case for this film, Lambert allowed the comedy, and comedians, to breathe. The story unfolded as it would and should have.
The film focuses on the whole town as they brace themselves for the impending Martian invasion, and each character was allowed to experience their story to the fullest. The characters ranged from a repressed school teacher (Anna Camp) and her straight shooting fiance (Matt Oberg) to a Reverend (Dan Bakkedahl) who is questioning his role in faith to the Mayor (Tony Hale) and the housewife (Heather Burns) he pines for. Each construct their role into a well orchestrated solo, which blends masterfully together to created a brilliant well-rounded film.
Consequences were always on the rise throughout the night the film takes place. A natural trajectory of events lead each character to confront their inward demons as outward threats loom. The situations aren’t farcical, instead Lambert and Dowling concentrated on the comedy in human nature to propel the film forward.
With multiple strong in-depth characters, they all work together to create a realized town. For the citizens in Brave New Jersey, there was never a question they belonged in the town. Their connections to each other and the town were constructed with admiration that not only were characters created, but also believable 1938 township.
One may go into the film thinking they cannot relate to the naive hysteria, but the strong story and actors enable the audience to fully emerge themselves into this realm of historical fiction. It’s hard not to imagine how you personally would handle this situation if you found yourself in it, believing the world as you know it was about to end. The detail represented through the costume and set design intensified the tone of the unknown. For being a period film, the exploration of a time that seems worlds a part, the honesty of the time was never questioned.
In the end, you have a film that is about a specific time in our nations’ history, and instead of trying to imagine what it would have been like, you find yourself emerged in a world of endless possibilities. The construction of a fictional representation of a real event was done in a way that allows the masters at their craft to create a funny film. This film is funny; in its simplicity, in the way it utilizes the talent of the cast, and because it’s a story we can all relate to.
We all search for those comedies that not only make us laugh but is funny because it’s not forced, and enjoyable to watch: Brave New Jersey is that film. If this doesn’t become one of your favorite comedies, you aren’t watching the film right.
Brave New Jersey has a second screening at Austin Film Festival on Monday, October 17th at the Alamo Village at 7pm.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Fons PR