Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Cast: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffy Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith, Andre 3000, Lars Eidinger, Barbara Sukova, Mike Gassaway, Matthew Sheer, Francis Joo, Danny Volohan, J. David Hinz , Logan Fry, Thomas W. Wolfe, Bob Gray, Eric Moth, Bill Camp, and Gideon Glick.
Jack Gladney, Professor of Hitler Studies at College on the Hill, Babette’s husband and father of four/stepchildren, is torn apart by a chemical spill from a railroad car that causes an “air-toxic event”. forcing Jack to confront his greatest fear, his own mortality.
A married couple, Jack and Babbett Gladney (played by Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig), lying in bed at the center of Noah Baumbach’s film (his second collaboration with Netflix after an unusually emotional Marriage history) film adaptation of the revered and supposedly unfilmed novel by Don DeLillo. White noise, strike up a conversation about death, hoping that they will leave first, stating that life without each other will be unbearable.
The mileage for engagement will also vary depending on the affinity for the topic, especially because the unescaped part White noise comes down not to visual gimmicks, but to the ability to deliberately use a quirky and genre-bending narrative structure (though there’s a feeling the middle section would benefit from a director more heavily versed in sci-fi and evocative spectacle).
White noise broken into three chapters, the first of which is reminiscent of a dark sitcom, then moves into a confrontation with a pandemic resulting from a chemical spill truck accident, and finally moves into a more dramatic exploration of a husband and wife through their secrets and desperation to overcome the fear of death . It’s a rare film that starts with a cumbersome mess but combines the best of those elements into a deep ending that touches on everything from jealousy and anger to consumerism, family and death to a highly intriguing interpretation of the purpose of faith.
However, it is also difficult to get praise for White noise after this third act, where Noah Baumbach seems to be completely locked up in his wheelhouse, balancing the serious with the absurd (the brutal script deftly transitions into black comedy). There are elements of horror here (including a fake nightmarish sequence that the director should be superior to, even if it’s somewhat scary) and a pandemic filled with disinformation through technologies similar to modern life (the film is set circa 1985). .
Even more fascinatingly, the script and novel prove that the biggest source of misinformation comes from family and general misunderstandings, which makes it a bit frustrating that the four children (three of whom are Jack’s adopted children) are never truly revealed. characters as they seem to be wiser and not afraid to push their parents to face certain realities. Adam Driver is also great at playing a character who is both afraid of death but calmly pretends nothing bad will ever happen and ruin the family life he cherishes.
Except for a gripping juxtaposition that breaks down the similar relationship between Adolf Hitler and Elvis Presley with their mothers, which alternate between a drunk driver carrying toxic chemicals, the various on-screen friendships between Jack, a professor at Hitler’s College, also don’t tether to the film and characters with that the same enthusiasm as the more thoughtful segments.
Don Cheadle plays fellow teacher Murray Siskind, who makes the aforementioned research comparison, while the presence of Jody-Turner Smith as a college scholar is also welcome. They all have philosophical musings (Murray suggests that grocery shopping is a form of rebirth, leading to a funny end credits sequence in which Noah Baumbach takes on yet another genre in this almost indescribable experience), but rarely feel like human beings, oh worth caring for (at least not to the same extent as Jack and Babette).
Speaking of Greta Gerwig’s Babbetta, it’s also slightly disappointing that her whole nature boils down to hiding the secret that teenage daughter Denise (Raffy Cassidy) noticed her memory loss and discovered a mysterious cure not registered by doctors and medical professionals. Once the supposed treatment for this drug comes into play and how it affects these characters comes to the fore, White noise finally cuts through all the white noise and thematically ties itself together.
Again, maybe this is the best possible version. White noise, a rich, idiosyncratic experience for which Noah Baumbach found no suitable frequency. Not to be trite with words, but much of it is still forgotten static.
Flickering Myths Rating – Movie: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Coider is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics’ Choice Association. He is also the review editor for Flickering Myth. Watch for new reviews here, follow mine Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]