Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Lars Eidinger, Jodie Turner-Smith, and André Benjamin
Director: Noah Baumbach
White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s first-ever adaptation, is one of his funniest films yet, chock full of great performances, but that doesn’t mean it completely works. Truthfully, its third act is where the film lost me a little bit. It’s not that it’s bad, or even disinteresting, but the film’s themes of death and fear of dying don’t quite coalesce completely. The film’s budget was certainly put to good use, and the “Airborne Toxic Event” sequence in particular is riveting filmmaking on a major scale, but nothing around it seems to work as much as that segment does.
I didn't love White Noise, but I also didn't hate it; however, unlike most films that garner that reaction, I don't feel apathy towards it either. It's ambitious for sure, and director Noah Baumbach likely did the best adaptation possible from the source material, but it just doesn't lend itself to film. The story structure spotlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the film - Part Two is the clear highlight – which makes everything a little disjointed. Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig's charm notwithstanding (at times, they reminded me of National Lampoon’s Griswolds), there just isn’t enough here for me to consider this film a success.
I loved White Noise, a chaotic slice of existential dread. Director Noah Baumbach turns in his best directorial work yet, working from a script that is so entertaining with how far removed from reality it is. The entire cast is great, although I did have some mixed feelings about Greta Gerwig's performance. Best of all, this movie deals with a tough subject (the inevitability of death) with a bizarre dose of optimism and assuredness, which is an impressive thing to pull off. If the novel on which the film is based truly is unadaptable, then Baumbach pulled off the impossible.
Frankly, I think Noah Baumbach’s films are too pretentious. While they usually feature terrific performances, they are like Wes Anderson films without the whimsy. White Noise, while still pretentious, is probably his first offering that I somewhat enjoyed. Still though, I only enjoyed Part Two (“Airborne Toxic Event”). The first act has a meanderingly pompous vibe that leaves you wondering what the movie is even about, while the third act is just kinda disconnectedly there. However, that genuinely great second act takes on pandemic hysteria with National Lampoon-level absurdity. So… I liked about 30% of it, which I guess is progress for me and Baumbach.
With White Noise being Noah Baumbach’s first ever adaptation, it’s definitely his most ambitious directorial effort yet. The film is a dry and cynical satire depicting how humanity deals with the thought and fear of life and death, making it feel like both a cautionary and a redemption tale. As absurd as the story is and how heightened the dialogue can feel at times, there is still a sense of dread that feels real, and the central family will at least have you laughing through its entirety!
There is some hilarity and scary relevance within White Noise, especially seeing as how society is coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic. That being said, it’s too inconsistent and self-referential for its own good, falling into the realm of self-parody. Even solid performances from Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig can’t make the odd dialogue feel natural. However, White Noise does boast a colorful palette, and its second act, “Airborne Toxic Event,” is the film’s main highlight, capitalizing on the humor and horror of the story.
This film was reviewed by Jacob and Paige as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 New York Film Festival.