White Noise (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – 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.

My Take – While one would expect writer-director Noah Baumbach, with about three decades and around a dozen directorial efforts behind him, to continue be a champion of intimate independent films for his next, following the critically acclaimed releases of The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) and Marriage Story (2019), but instead, under the guise of a big, brightly colored major studio production, he has surprisingly tapped into an unexpected polar opposite genre that will likely prove less accessible to many of his viewers.

Bringing to the screen his adaption of Don DeLillo’s 1980s famed postmodern novel of the same name, a work which has been largely regarded as unfilmable. A fact I understood only after spending 136 minutes. Undoubtedly, this film is one of the strangest Netflix releases in recent times, which is saying a lot given the competition. Feeling like three separate films mashed together, the plot is all over the place, the dialogue very stylized, and the overall atmosphere is engaging but off-putting. Yet somehow, it also works.

Mainly because the film’s sudden gear shifts are never less than entertaining. Sometimes wildly so. This is a film that delights in being muddled, fragmented, and many things at once. A fundamentally strange and unfocused ramble of existentialist angst, full of surreal and absurdist humor with a little horror thrown into the mix from time to time.

Yes, some sections fall flat, understandable as it tackles so many 80s tropes, and can be jarring and disconcerting to watch as it jumps from a wordy workplace comedy to an unsettling but all too familiar pandemic-esque satire, yet it certainly features good laughs and moments of necessary emotion. This is the type of film that is sure to cause a lot of division in audiences, particularly if absurdist humor (even I am not sure if I fully understand what it is) is your thing.

Set in 1984, the story follows Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), a professor at a fictional Midwestern college, who has reached celebrity status through his Hitler studies curriculum, although he himself does not know speak German and is hoping to learn the basics before his big speech at a conference later in the year.

His home life too teeters on chaos every day, as he and his wife Babbette (Greta Gerwig) are both on their fourth marriage, and are juggling their blended family of kids – Denise (Raffey Cassidy), Heinrich (Sam Nivola) and Steffie (May Nivola), from their previous marriages, every day, with only the little Wilder being their own.

Both Jack and Babette are terrified of death and have long conversations on who of the two will die first. Heinrich keeps himself occupied with various science theories, while Steffie worries about infinitely mundane yet earth-moving facts. But Denise is particularly worried her mum is addicted to unlisted little white pills called Dylar and wants Jack to use his college credentials to find out more. However, their investigation into her secretive behavior is interrupted by a chemical spill which causes a panicked mass evacuation.

The film is divided into very distinct chapters which constantly lurch through styles and levels of seriousness and silliness. Each of its three sections is almost standalone, with only the barest thread connecting them, and its themes of existential dread, rampant consumerism, fidelity, pharmaceutical dependence and era-specific social commentary and satire is a heck of a lot to cram into one film. And if you are looking for a linear narrative you’ll be disappointed, it’s important to continuously refer back to previous events, their meaning and how what’s happening now redefines the context of how they occurred.

A satire on consumer society, academia, family life, love and death. Writer DeLillo’s novel has long been considered un-adaptable due in part to its complex explorations of death, consumer culture, technology, and intellectualism–just to name a few themes. In a little over two hours, director Baumbach unsurprisingly isn’t able to mine the depths of DeLillo’s work, but does give a valiant effort. The absurdity of the characters and situations is also reminiscent of director Baumbach‘s earlier works.

Above all, he captures the novel’s emphasis on death and society’s attitude towards it. There’s both terror and humor at the heart of the film, and that’s the whole point: holding a mirror up to contemporary America to see the absurdity of its own duality. Jack Gladney is a victim of his own privilege, the hubris of a white middle-class man in the face of disastrous events exposes an uncomfortable yet laughable truth. By taking the original story and ramping up the ridiculousness in a myriad of ways, director Baumbach shows a subtle understanding of his subjects in the exact way that they themselves do not.

Unfortunately, the film does sag in its final episode, as the plot becomes less imaginative and more familiar in subject matter. And the ultimate message of the ending is rather trite and simplistic given the ideas it explores in the earlier chapters.

Nevertheless, the film features some solid performances. Adam Driver is at his best when at his most flamboyant and hilariously over-acting, emphasizing the ridiculousness of Jack’s ego. Greta Gerwig reminds us again why we keep falling in love with her again and again, as she manages Babette a joy to behold, a magnet to your empathy and affection that embodies grace and humility.

In supporting turns, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, and May Nivola are a delight to watch. There are also oddball bit-parts from the likes of Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lars Eidinger and André Benjamin who are a joy to watch. On the whole, ‘White Noise’ is a fascinating and frustrating absurdist drama that is both wonderful and unashamedly weird.

Directed –

Starring – Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle

Rated – R

Run Time – 136 minutes

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