I love movies that have a limited or confining setting–films that take place during a single day, more or less in or around a single house, in one room, or in one space, to name a few examples. Think August: Osage County or Carnage or, of course, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–and yes, those were plays first. And no, I am not one of those people who criticizes films because the film sticks to that “confined” setting and complains that they are “a play filmed as a movie.”
I also have this same feeling for movies that are set in small towns. Both situations force me to focus on the “small” space (depth over breadth). This, consequently, allows me to focus more on the psychological realism of the characters. And often the physical space itself has a character of its own. Think about episode of The Twilight Zone with that town with only one inhabitant after everyone except one man disappears, or several other episodes of that series. Or, better yet, think of the emptied town in Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
For Brave New Jersey, director Jody Lambert found a tiny, abandoned town in Tennessee and brings people to it; so, unlike in Keats’s frozen-in-time “cold pastoral,” Lambert accomplishes something unlikely but not impossible. His discovery had the ingredients to create a confined setting in which to put a typical, because so eccentric, group of townspeople, some of whom feel trapped in the word that I so enjoy watching from my seat. And because they are faced with once-in-a-lifetime, “life-threatening” circumstances (ones we know from actual history), emotions are heightened and people become more of who they are (because that is what happens in those situations). Tony Hale (2-time Emmy® winner for HBO’s Veep) is perfect as Clark Hill, a man trying to break out of an emotional entanglement of his own in addition to the more immediate crisis that comes up.
Brave New Jersey (writ. Michael Dowling and Jody Lambert, dir. of photography Corey Walter) is charming and funny, and it takes place within the small physical space I love to be placed into. There is even a literal path that leads into and out of it (but we don’t see what is on the other side). The film shows the absurdity of people (both in an amusing way and in a depressing way that frustrates me about life). Comparing who we were before to who we are after we calm down from whatever fear made our primal survival instincts come through is the real story. “Becoming more of who you are” means different things to different people, and you don’t necessarily want to be someone who is the most of who you are only during times when you are sensitized at a rare and unusually intense level.
Release dates beyond the film festivals that have provided screenings are currently up in the air, but you should definitely keep an eye out. Follow the film on Twitter.