White Noise (2022)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Henry Moore, Dean Moore, Jodie Turner-Smith, Andre 3000
It’s 2023, what’s more “in” than Adam Driver’s comedic acting and a healthy fear of death? While Noah Bambauch’s Netflix Original film adaptation of “White Noise” isn’t airtight, it is both a timely and darkly funny experience for anyone who views each new year as a slow trudge toward human demise.
Based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name, White Noise follows a charismatic professor of Hitler studies, Jack (Adam Driver), and his magnanimous family through a toxic airborne event and back to domestic life. While the plot remains largely in tact, many fans of the post-modern classic will no doubt wonder if the tone of Bambauch’s satire fails to meet the mastery of its literary predecessor. It’s clear that Baumbach respects the source material, but at times the stilted dialogue feels more fit for the page than the screen. As a result, White Noise rotates drastically between acts – wavering between a silly over the top comedy and a family drama.
What the film lacks in tonal consistency, it makes up for in solid performances and a charming meditation on consumerism, the evils of technology, and the ever-present looming fear of human mortality. Adam Driver is surprisingly funny across all three acts as he attempts to wrangle his curious children and keep up appearances as the premiere instructor in all things fascist dictator (despite the fact that he doesn’t even speak German!). Greta Gerwig (director of Lady Bird and Little Women) portrays Jack’s wife Babette – a relentlessly optimistic woman who soon becomes disillusioned with the world around her as the toxic event and the stresses of domesticity weigh on her shoulders. The couple are forced to challenge their ways as they wade through the apocalypse and back.
In turn, the supporting cast amplifies this beautifully bizarre universe. In his university job, Jack is surrounded by a talented cast of morally questionable professors who tussle with the end of the world and what that means for their profession. Murray (portrayed by Don Cheadle) strolls the isles of the store with Jack and stresses that he wants to “make Elvis [his] Hitler”. The chemistry and sheer charisma of this star-studded cast elevates what has been called an “unfilmable” movie into something that’s not only incredibly charming, but also an enjoyable watch.
Though White Noise presents the artifice of a heady and intellectual comedy, it boils down to a fairly simple deconstruction of consumerism and a criticism of the media. We see the characters struggle to divorce reality from the tabloid headlines that cross their television screens and radio. After the toxic event shocks their small town, the family watches a black cloud roll slowly toward them – rather than immediately panic, their oldest son Heinrich (Sam Nivola) begins obsessing over the news, reporting that “they’re calling it a black, billowing cloud!” before allowing the family to trust their eyes.
It’s not a revolutionary commentary – people are media obsessed, only willing to believe what fits their narrative – but the film offered a rare gesture towards the pandemic that isn’t overly self-righteous or reductive. The novel may be an important work of literature, but the film is more of an empathetic companion to gripe about the state of the world.
If one thing is certain, White Noise is visually stunning. Composed of fiery Spielburgian explosions and evenly composed images of a colorfully sterile grocery store, Frances Ha and Marriage Story director Bambauch knows how to make consumerism pretty. In a dazzling end credits scene (which you truly have to see for yourself), the filmmaker proves that striking imagery is his strong suit; from the costume design to the set, to the otherworldly coloring of film, White Noise is a testament to attention to detail.
White Noise won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. The meandering, occasionally pretentious post-post-apocalyptic epic isn’t going to be palatable for general audiences. Additionally, fans of the DeLillo novel should approach with caution. While the film is not fault free, it is quite lovingly crafted with a cast of gifted actors who are just as stressed out about the end of the world (and beyond).
Written by Emi Grant
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