Unlike the actual definition of white noise, Noah Baumbach’s White Noise doesn’t operate at a familiar frequency throughout or remain at the same level of intensity from start to finish. But what they do have in common is the sense of droning irritation that may successfully lull you off to sleep.
Director Noah Baumbach and lead actor Adam Driver team up again having worked together on previous Netflix projects The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) and the amazing divorce drama Marriage Story (2019). An adaptation of the 1985 novel by Don Delillo, White Noise documents the daily ordinary lives of a seemingly well kept white American family. But when a chemical spill causes “The Airborne Toxic Event”, the Gladney family are forced to evacuate their home and thrust themselves amongst the quick brewing chaos that surrounds their hometown.
Whilst this synopsis does cover the roots of its narrative, it only details one small portion of its overbearing story structure. What is laid out in the first half of the film is subsequently dropped to focus on a commentary on consumerism, family dramas and death.
White Noise starts by presenting a sort of end of the world scenario, ending Netflix’s year almost much the same as 2021 did with Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. And much like that movie, all I see is wasted acting talent. White Noise certainly has its moments. Most of which being provided by Driver and his movie wife (and real-life partner of director Baumbach) Greta Gerwig. Most of the line delivery is so poetic and feels almost ripped straight from the pages of its source material that it borderlines cringy and unfamiliar of a Baumbach picture in which scenes shared from his co-stars often feels real and very raw. But when these characters go with the full lunacy of its script it does lead to some great comic relief.
Where this film almost entirely shifts in tone however, it loses its momentum and with me my interest almost entirely. White Noise feels like two totally different pieces of work that when glued together, seem to lack cohesion and any real sense. The weird and oddly wonderful first half promises a fun thrill that disguises its awkwardness with sheepish but often effective humour. But the film we get in the second half is this morbidly mundane soap-operatic slog that forces an entirely new set of circumstances your way.
Another novel that has received the ‘unfilmable’ remark, and it’s not hard to see why. The way in which White Noise is written appears squished and muddled when the pages are elevated to screen. Baumbach’s handling of the material may be admirable to some, but to others like me the final product further demonstrates why some books simply should just remain as such.
If not for some scene-stealing work from Greta Gerwig as Babette Gladney and strong support from Don Cheadle and Raffey Cassidy, I would be struggling to find any positives outside of Driver’s mere presence alone. But White Noise is that rare occasion where the end credits genuinely is the most exciting thing we get. With a fun, infectious dance number to a new LCD Soundsystem beat, in the middle of a supermarket, that wouldn’t at all feel out of place in many modern day musicals.
2022’s White Noise ends Baumbach’s solid Netflix run. It juggles too many subjects and themes and doesn’t seem confident with its overarching message. It certainly has its fans, but I’m not one of them.