“Brave New Jersey” takes place in Lullaby, NJ, population 506, a sleepy little town where, “where strangers are friends and no one is a stranger.” It is, however, where some very strange things happen on Halloween, 1938.
The panic Orson Welles’ legendary “War of the Worlds” hoax broadcast inspired has inspired several movies. His radio tale, complete with simulated news bulletins suggesting an alien invasion, is the stuff of legend. “Brave New Jersey” is a soft-hearted take on the story. Nothing much ever happens in Lullaby. It’s only claim to fame is that it is the home of the world’s only automated milking machine, the Rotolactor. Located just hours away from the Grover’s Mills, the very heart of Welles’ fictional invasion, the news of aliens hit the town hard.
As panic spreads lovesick mayor Clark Hill (Tony Hale) tries to maintain calm but sees his efforts undone by Captain Collins (Raymond J. Barry) who whips up the townsfolk, preparing them for extra-terrestrial warfare. As they wait for the ETs on what they think may be their last night on earth, their true natures are exposed. Hidden courage is revealed, secret love may be professed and faith will be rekindled.
“Brave New Jersey” is jam packed with actors you know from television—Hale is instantly recognizable from “Arrested Development” and “Veep,” local loud mouth Paul is played by “Parenthood’s” Sam Jaeger and “The Last Man on Earth’s” Mel Rodriguez turns up as the timid sheriff—in an ensemble that gives them all a chance to shine. And shine they do in a small-scale movie that skids by on equal parts charm and art direction. The recreation of this slice of 1930s Americana is bolstered by beautiful production design and authentic Norman Rockwell touches.
The actors smooth over the rough middle patch, keeping things interesting until the storylines criss-cross and come to their respective and satisfying resolutions.
“Brave New Jersey” is a sleeper, a small film with small ambitions whose charisma will win you over.