Time: 136 Minutes
Age Rating: Adult themes
Adam Driver as Prof. Jack Gladney
Greta Gerwig as Babette Gladney
Don Cheadle as Prof. Murray Siskind
Raffey Cassidy as Denise Gladney
Director: Noah Baumbach
College professor Jack Gladney and his family’s comfortable suburban life is upended when a nearby chemical leak causes “The Airborne Toxic Event,” releasing a noxious black cloud over the region that forces the Gladney family to evacuate.
I had been hearing about White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s next movie which would star Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. From brief glances, it looked a little weird and I didn’t pay attention to it much. However, it seemed to be having some split reactions from audiences and I was curious enough to check it out for myself. It surprised me and I’m glad I decided to watch it.
White Noise is based on a novel of the same name from Don DeLillo, and I read some comments from people who read it saying that it was near impossible to do an film adaptation for it. I’m not familiar with the book so I can’t comment on that, but clearly Baumbach had a specific angle with how to adapt it, especially with how off kilter it is. It is definitely an ambitious film and takes a lot of risks. White Noise is one of those movies where you’ll figure out if you like it within the first 10 minutes, it is firmly in the “not for everyone” camp. It is a difficult movie to explain; it starts out with an initial plot focussing on a family’s lives being disrupted by an airborne toxic event, but that’s just the start, and the plot isn’t really consistent. As I started the movie, I found it to be very messy, absurd and strange; it was perplexing and I had no idea where it was going. However, there was something intriguing, unpredictable and exciting about it that had me curious enough to see where it would go, and I got more into it than I was expecting. I’m not quite sure I understood everything that it was going for, but I got the main points of the story, and I’m sure things will be clarified upon rewatch. It begins as a pure satire before evolving into being more character focused. The first thing you’ll probably notice about White Noise is the dialogue, which will probably make or break the movie for some people. The dialogue is strange, overwritten and overintellectual, that paired with the line deliveries makes it feel unnatural. It’ll particularly throw you off if you’re familiar with Noah Baumbach’s other movies, which had otherwise very naturalistic dialogue. However, it is intentionally written and delivered this way, and eventually I got used to it. There really is a mix of tones throughout, jumping between different genres over the 2 hours and 15 minutes runtime. As a dark comedy it is very off kilter and dry, and I found it quite funny. It also gets dark at points, mainly towards the end of the movie, to the point where it leans towards thriller in the third act. This might also throw people off since it is so different from the previous two acts, but it worked for me. There are plenty of themes at play, including existentialism, mortality, modern anxieties and especially fear of death. Some ideas aren’t as expanded on or fleshed out as they could’ve been, but not doubt they are conveyed better in the book.
The film benefits from a strong cast who deliver in their roles. Adam Driver plays the main character; it’s a difficult role to pull off, but he is fantastic here, particularly nailing the dry humour. I think this is up there as one of his best performances. Greta Gerwig is great too, especially in the latter portions of the movie. The actors who play Driver’s children including Raffey Cassidy are also on point. The rest of the cast are good, Don Cheadle is also excellent in a supporting role and is a scene stealer.
One of the more surprising aspects was Noah Baumbach’s direction. From the movies I’ve seen of his, his directing is good, but usually just works to serve the performances and writing. With White Noise however, there is a very distinct style that really added to the film. Noah is working with a bigger budget, and you can feel that throughout. Baumbach does very well at getting the right feelings through visuals alone. There’s a lot in that which feels off kilter, everything is too colourful including the production design, and much looks artificial and unnatural (deliberately so). The cinematography is great, visually stunning and remarkable at points. There are some very stellar and wonderfully filmed sequences, a standout being during the credits. Finally, the score from Danny Elfman is great and really adds a lot to the atmosphere.
White Noise is a darkly humorous, absurdist, satirical, and wonderfully weird dramedy, with fantastic performances especially from Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle. It’s definitely one of the more unexpected and surprising movies from 2022. I admit that there’s a lot that I didn’t understand and much of my liking of it comes from its boldness and uniqueness. Still, the end result just seemed to work for me. It is both awesome and funny that Netflix actually decided to finance such a strange and polarising film, however it is definitely not for everyone. Still, it worked for me, and I am really looking forward to rewatching it.