White Noise review: Absurdist comedy never quite hits the mark

‘White Noise’ is an absurdist comedy-drama film directed by Noah Baumbach. It is an adaptation of the eponymous 1985 novel by Don DeLillo and revolves around the Gladney family following an air contamination accident in their town. It stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle, among others. The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Story

White Noise opens in a small American town in the 1980s and traverses into the life of Professor Jack Gladney (Driver), who teaches “Hitler Studies” — a field he founded — at the College-on-the-Hill.

We are then introduced to his family. Jack is married to Babette (Gerwig), and they are each others’ fourth spouses. Furthermore, their children are a mixed bunch from their previous unions and their own.

There are Heinrich and Steffie from two of Jack’s previous marriages, Denise from Babette’s previous marriage, and Wilder, a child they produced together.

The plot then focuses on the family’s experience after an accident causes a toxic cloud to form over their town. There is a mass evacuation, and the Gladneys travel to a quarantine camp.

Meanwhile, Babette is involved in a shady drug trial that threatens to destroy her marriage with Jack.

Performances

Adam Driver collaborates with ‘Marriage Story’ director Noah Baumbach once again for this film. They’re joined by Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle in the lead.

As absurd and existential White Noise is, the actors shine in their respective roles and manage to bring something unique to their characters.

Driver and Gerwig play a couple who is terrified of death and try to find solace in the neverending humdrum of life. Meanwhile, Cheadle is the former’s colleague who is keen on teaching a subject dedicated to Elvis Presley.

The cast is stellar and showcases their acting chops with the material they are given. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate convincingly on screen as it did in the novel.

Positives

Baumbach does well to showcase daily familial issues in a manner that raises deep talking points about life. The plot skillfully sheds light on themes of existential dread, death, love, and monotony, among others.

The production design of this film is also top-notch. The camera work and editing too are unique, and some transitions will leave you quite impressed.

Interestingly, there is a dance number inside an ’80s supermarket towards the end of the film, which is one of the best things about it. If only the remainder of the film could hit those notes.

Negatives

White Noise suffers from a hotchpotch of genres. Baumbach tries to blend natural disasters with satire, thriller, and comedy, causing the film to end up in flames. It works well in individual parts but lacks coherence as a whole.

It tries to enforce logical conversations via its completely nonsensical series of events but fails to do so convincingly. Furthermore, despite the actors bringing their best to the film, the characters are extremely flawed (not in a good way) and uninteresting.

There is a consistent barrage of long monologues and exchanges that are fun initially but turn mind-numbing. The dialogue is a unique aspect of the narrative. Most of the time, the characters speak about random things and do not acknowledge or respond to what the other said.

The source novel is very rich and layered, which the film tries to capture but ultimately fails to do. If this were a show instead, maybe it would have succeeded in doing justice to Don DeLillo’s work in a manner that doesn’t feel disjointed.

Verdict

White Noise is not everyone’s cup of tea. Consider watching this only if you have the patience and headspace to comprehend something utterly bewildering. You may then see the deep-rooted meaning within the narrative that gets lost quite easily.

The film does not work as a whole, but you may enjoy the hints of brilliance it provides. Kudos to Baumbach for trying to adapt an almost unadaptable book.

White Noise
White Noise review: Absurdist comedy never quite hits the mark 1

Director: Noah Baumbach

Date Created: 2023-01-03 20:37

Editor's Rating:
2.5

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