Fake news travels fast, even in the fictitious New Jersey town of Lullaby in the 1930s. That rural town was light-years away from the Manhattan home of the CBS studio, where Orson Welles was retelling H. G. Wells’s novel “The War of the Worlds” in an infamous radio production on Oct. 30, 1938. Those unaware that the broadcast was a work of fiction fell for Wells’s story of an alien invasion. Fear that it was real quickly set off a panic.
In Jody Lambert’s lighthearted comedy “Brave New Jersey” panic is positive, pushing people to say or do things they may have never done under ordinary circumstances. Out of the ensuing chaos, the town’s bashful mayor (Tony Hale, from “Veep”) is forced to assert himself, and a pastor’s faith is challenged, as is the relationship between a schoolteacher and her new fiancé.
Through its many cheerful characters, “Brave New Jersey” emanates an upbeat attitude of a James Stewart kind. With its warm filters and costumes, the movie emulates a period film, but its sharp digital cinematography is at odds with its softer, vintage aesthetic.
Mr. Lambert, who wrote the screenplay with Michael Dowling, aims for a modest, old-fashioned yarn about a time when people believed in the news media. Even when word gets out that the Martian invasion announcement was just part of a radio show, not everyone listens as intently as they did to the original radio program and gossip. The film’s narrative simplicity can be charming or frustrating, depending on your feelings about awkward dialogue and overreacting actors.
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