Jody Lambert’s Brave New Jersey follows the residents of Lullaby, NJ as they hear the famous Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast. Not realizing that it is in fact fiction, the townspeople decide to take action.
Throughout the film we, witness the extreme reaction of the town’s mayor, Clark Hill, (Tony Hale of Veep), the wealthy Paul (Sam Jaeger of Parenthood) and his neglected wife, Lorraine, (Heather Burns of Bored to Death), Captain Ambrose P. Collins (Raymond J. Barry of Training Day), and many more. Though their stories interlock, they have vastly different experiences of dealing with the idea of fighting, fleeing, or picking up on the joke from the beginning.
It’s a small-scale movie with a large-scale concept. The problem of lacking focus restrains Brave New Jersey from having any room to breathe. Each person in the ensemble is given equal screen time, but with the film’s 90-minute runtime, we’re left with simple archetypes. However, the movie remains humorous throughout, and it’s easy to grow attached to a handful of the characters as well as the coziness and comfort of Lullaby itself.
Mayor Hill is the closest we have to a lead, and if anything, his character made me wish Tony Hale played a leading role more often. There’s an early scene of him sitting alone shortly before the broadcast airs where he’s about to drink expired milk, contemplating whether it’s still edible, trying it anyway, chewing it, trying it again, and then spitting it out. Odd, funny, and somewhat sad, moments like it come and go, but they’re effective at introducing the characters.
So many small moments appear and beg to be expanded upon. Too many movies suffer from over-staying their welcome, but Brave New Jersey is as timid as Hale’s character: moving from place to place—jumping straight into sentiment and getting out—right as we’re settling in.
Pacing aside, Jody Lambert and co-writer Michael Dowling have fun with the concept. Their energy translates onscreen well, culminating in a great sequence of Lullaby citizens running in harmony through a cloud of smoke toward the “invaders.” Additionally, it would criminal to not acknowledge Vanessa Porter’s costumes and Chloe Arbiture’s production design.