Noah Baumbach is one of today’s most interesting filmmakers, and there’s no denying his films are unique and command viewing but has the filmmaker – who, like his contemporary Woody Allen, usually makes intelligent and amusing films set in New York – bit off a little more than he can chew here?
Admirable, sure, here we’ve a film adaptation of a wildly obtuse novel (1985’s White Noise by Don DeLillo) that jumps from metaphor to jest within but a few frames, but effective and entertaining? That’ll depend on the percentage of alcohol in the beverage you’re consuming throughout it.
Adam Driver plays Jack Gladney, a middle-aged college professor, specializing in Hitler studies, whose fear of death is dialed up to 11 when a toxic substance leaks into the air near his town. The children he shares with his wife (Mrs Baumbach, Greta Gerwig) share ‘fake news’ they’re hearing with their folks, and soon enough, they and for that matter, everyone else is donning face masks, blaming the government for purposely leaking a noxious element, and retaliating.
A lengthy look at your typical (?) American families’ neuroses, foibles, and far from tranquil ’80s lifestyle, White Noise is a brave, impossibly hard to categorize piece that likely works better now – *cogh* pandemic *cough* – than it would the decade it’s set in. Baumbach’s film tackle’s themes and events that play somewhere between realistic and ridiculous – and in abundance. Because of the way events, as oddly as he has them played, mirror real life and how the humans get about, it’s clear he’s got something to say. He just might be trying to say too much and a little shambolically.
Best described as an Altman-like black comedy with splashings of the absurd and bleak, White Noise is well performed, likely as crafted as well as a reportedly “unfilmable” can be, and some moments really hammer home and deliver, but all in all, this precursor of modern-life peril works best as a worthwhile curiosity more than a piece of entertainment. Admirable, as I said, but also a lot of, er, noise.