December 23, 2022 / Netflix
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, André Benjamin, Alessandro Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, Don Cheadle
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
At once hilarious and horrifying, lyrical and absurd, ordinary and apocalyptic, White Noise dramatizes a contemporary American family's attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.
Written By Darren
Rating 2 out of 5
White Noise is full of interesting ideas as it tackles fear of death, health crises and academia that despite having the always great Adam Driver leading the film, it is going to be a film that you either love or hate.
Noah Baumbach has such an unique voice as a writer and director, heavily influenced from his days writing for Wes Anderson, that instantly lets the audience know that this is a Baumbach film. His previous film, Marriage Story, was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking portrayals of love and divorce that has ever been captured on screen, which had many people eagerly awaiting his next film. For his latest film, Baumbach adapts Don DeLillo’s novel that follows an American family grappling with mundane conflicts, exasperated by a train crash that spills chemical waste resulting in the “Airborne Toxic Event” which threatens their entire town’s health and safety.
Being a black comedy, the film has a warped sense of humour with its satirical approach to the themes being explored in the film. Some of the comedic moments of the film are absolutely hilarious, guaranteed to have you laughing uncontrollably, but many of them fall flat as it is not always clear the intention behind the joke. The mocking of academia is scathing, as the film gives the professors the most absurd subject matters to study. Whether it be Adam Driver’s character who is the leading expert on Hitler, or Don Cheadle’s drive to be the leading expert on Elvis Presley, the screenplay never for a second hides DeLillo’s commentary on academia. At the same time, the film explores the fear of death through Driver and Greta Gerwig’s characters, both who are obsessed with the fear of dying, going to extreme lengths to prevent their passing despite neither of them having a reason to be fearful for their life. Even when there is a real threat to their lives, neither of them seem that phased, playing into the story’s view on the media and misinformation. It is a surprisingly relevant insight in today’s world given the amount of misinformation and the ease that it is spread, given that the original novel was published back in 1985.
But while the film has so many great themes and ideas to play with, it feels like there is too much going on throughout. The screenplay spends time jumping from idea to idea, causing the film to lack a central focus as we follow this family as Baumbach tries to evoke the Spielbergian feel of the 80s, and while the intent to evoke this feeling is there, that heart that Baumbach tries to evoke is absent. It will work for some viewers, but for more general audiences, they are bound to be bored by the film. I checked my watch at least three times during the movie to see how much time was left, and I honestly don’t remember the last time I did that during a movie. The two hour and fifteen minute run time is just too much for this film. Even the musical number that closes the film, with an original song by Danny Elfman that may just be the most bizarre thing he has ever done, failed to excite me, which for anyone who knows me is a sign of alarm as I am a sucker for musical numbers.
No blame for my dissatisfaction with the film can be put on the cast, especially Driver and Gerwig who are both terrific in their roles. Both of them portray extremely quirky characters, and the ease in which they capture the uniqueness of their characters and bring Baumbach’s screenplay to life is a testament to their talent as actors. Having both worked with Baumbach before, you can feel the trust between Driver, Gerwig and Baumbach which allows their performances to inhabit a life of their own, that is unfortunately not matched by the screenplay.
Sometimes a film just does not connect as it should, and even though some critics are enjoying this film, it is more likely than not that this film will miss the mark with audiences despite the talent involved in it. While it has some truly hilarious moments and plays around with some interesting ideas, White Noise succumbs to a screenplay that cannot tell a cohesive narrative to match the talent both in front of and behind the camera.