The radio broadcast, “War of the Worlds,” by Orson Wells in 1938 has been talked about for generations. That is the night that entertainment turned out to be an unforgettable night by many listeners, for some believed they would die that evening when the Martians arrived. Directed by Jody Lambert (“People Like Us,” “Of All The Things,” “Funny or Die”) and co-written by Lambert and Michael Dowling, the independent film “Brave New Jersey” made its world premiere in town during the Austin Film Festival Saturday, Oct. 15 at the State Theater downtown. The humor, the performance by the large ensemble cast of varied ages (by casting director, Denise Chamian) and the attention to detail by the filmmakers make this feature film one not to miss. I have high hopes that this film will reach more audiences through future festivals and in theaters.
Shot in three towns in west Tennessee, “Brave New Jersey” is set in Lullaby, New Jersey. It has a population of slightly over 500 altogether (not sure if that includes the cows or not), where everyone knows everyone and their business. At least, they think they know who their neighbors are until that late October evening when their “final day” is looming over them. The mild-mannered Mayor Clark Hill (Tony Hale, “Arrested Development,” “Veep,” “Sanjay and Craig”) does not get people’s respect during a regular day in the community and becomes totally invisible to the townsfolk after World War I veteran Captain Ambrose P. Collins (Raymond J. Barry, “Justified,” “The Purge: Election Year”) sees this as another opportunity to relive his past, large and in charge. Unfortunately, the sheriff (Mel Rodriguez, “Last Man on Earth,” “Getting On”) does nothing about anything and defers to Collins’ commands.
The comedy is hilarious as we start to see personalities change when the panic ensues and the mob mentality arises. The respected businessman who brought the mechanized rotolactator for cows (Paul Davison, “Sam Jaeger, “Parenthood,” “American Sniper”) skips town before disaster strikes, leaving his wife Lorraine (Heather Burns, “Miss Congeniality”) and two children in the street. The town’s lone and recently engaged school teacher Peg (Anna Camp, “Pitch Perfect,” “The Good Wife”) thinks twice about getting hitched to Chardy (Matt Oberg, “Sisters,” “Superstore,” “Veep”), aside from acting on a fantasy during the panic mode. Helen Holbrook (Erika Alexander, “Bosch,” “Last Man Standing,” “Living Single”) is loyal and supportive of the town’s pastor, Reverend Ray Rogers (Dan Bakkedahl, “The Mindy Project,” “Trumbo”), even though he does not believe in himself and always arrives late to church.
The score is co-composed by the director’s father, Dennis Lambert, with Delta Spirits’ Matthew Logan Vasquez and Kelly Winrich.
During the festival, I was able to speak to the director, Jody Lambert, and some of the talented cast members: Heather Burns, Anna Camp and Matt Oberg. The early morning conversation was quite energetic and Mr. Lambert was very happy with the audience reaction and described the prior night’s experience at the screening as if “it was like a rock concert.” He considers himself lucky to have all the actors he did, describing them as a “fun and supportive crew” that hung out, even when not shooting.
When asked what he felt was one challenging thing for him from this experience or process, he responded it was keeping an eye on the whole production, yet focusing on each moment. “Will each piece work?,” he asked himself.
For Ms. Burns, she described some challenges from being out in the elements, such as the heat, bugs and snakes, aside from the lightning. “But we worked when we could and the energy was good,” she stated. “It was a calm from the top down.” She added that the ensemble cast are actor’s actors, who care for the craft for acting and not just another gig.
When asked to describe a challenge, Ms. Camp stated it was when she mocked Matt Oberg’s character, Chardy. She said she found it hard to hate him. During a scene where she is pushing him away, she stated it was tricky to find the tone and a painful part to do. Matt’s response was much more playful. There is a scene where they are both in a vehicle. “I know, putting a 1930s car in reverse!,” he said. They ended up pushing it. She then added they had to pretend they had hit something.
“Brave New Jersey” was screened again during the Austin Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Village and the theater was sold out.