Sometimes, anticipation can lead to you having an unfair level of expectations for a film, but when it comes to Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, you can’t possibly know what you’re getting yourself into unless you are familiar with the source material. A genuinely insane and bizarre experience, the movie might not always work, but it’s something you have to see to believe nonetheless.
The film follows a typical American family hoping to deal with the mundanities of life when their world becomes unexpectedly uncertain. Based on the iconic novel by Don DeLillo, this is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre movies you will see this year (for better or worse) and is an insane swing for Baumbach.
Of course, Baumbach is known for his dry, deadpan sense of humor, and this is his trademark that can be most seen in the movie. His quirky humor meshes well with the bizarre and surreal nature of Don DeLillo’s writing, but admittedly, it does begin to feel like it is being weird for the sake of being weird at times.
There are certainly some interesting themes in the film, some of which are pulled from DeLillo’s text, and others likely having been added through Baumbach’s adaptation and interpretation. For example, there are clearly some elements that seem related to the modern phenomena of COVID, fake news, and Donald Trump, which DeLillo obviously would not have been able to write about in 1985. It’s definitely overstuffed, but it’s hard not to admire it for its ambition.
The area in which White Noise will start to lose the audience is its character development. Obviously, the characters aren’t meant to be entirely likable or approachable — the protagonist’s occupation makes sure of that — but in creating its off-kilter portrait of suburbia, the movie offers a typical American family that also feels entirely atypical. In other words, they’re too weird to be relatable, but too average to be exceptional.
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Adam Driver is absolutely pitch-perfect casting in this role, as he is weird enough to make it work, but not so weird as to not be charming. His exchanges with Don Cheadle are excellent, with the best scene in the film being a back-and-forth between the two of them. On the other hand, Greta Gerwig is just kind of there in her role — there’s nothing wrong with her performance, but it doesn’t stand out either.
White Noise is certainly made with a much larger scale than anything Baumbach has done before, and perhaps ever will do again. While he tends to make dramedies that are pretty grounded, this is an absurd and excessive satire. Its sense of visual style, along with a strange but fitting score by Danny Elfman, is quite impressive.
White Noise is an off-puttingly weird movie Although there are some very funny moments throughout and it deserves praise for its highly ambitious approach, it’s a bit too chaotic for its own good — even though it is definitely the type of film that would be served by repeat viewings.
White Noise screened as part of the 2022 Miami Film Festival GEMS program, which runs November 3-10.
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