White Noise

NYFF Opening Night Selection

Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, André L. Benjamin, Lars Eidinger

Screened at: Walter Reade Theater, NY, 9/30/22

Opens: September 30th, 2022 (New York Film Festival)

Everyone moves through life in their own way, reacting somewhat differently to events that occur and the people they meet. There are those who believe themselves to be intellectually superior to the masses, an attitude that likely indicates pretentiousness more than actual intelligence. The arrival of a major and unprecedented development will likely be met with skepticism by those who think they know better, even if in reality they are just as clueless as the rest, separated only by their determination that they’re tuned in to something no one else could possibly grasp.

In the 1980s, Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a college professor specializing in Hitler Studies, a field whose devotion Jack’s colleague Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle) looks to replicate with his own obsession, Elvis Presley. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), have four children from their many relationships under their roof, including Denise (Raffey Cassidy), who exhibits great concern over her mother’s wellbeing, and Heinrich (Sam Nivola), who emulates his father’s particularities with his extensive survival preparedness. When a chemical spill occurs and forces the family to evacuate, they confront their new reality with a combination of controlled panic and outright denial.

Based on the 1985 book of the same name by Don DeLillo, White Noise is similarly divided into three parts. The first, Waves and Radiation, introduces Jack and the way that he and his family lives. The second, The Airborne Toxic Event, finds the family slowly realizing just what is happening around them and beginning to take stock of their new circumstances. The third, Dylarama, returns back to Jack and Babette, honing in on Babette’s paralyzing fear of death and Jack’s pursuit of information about the origins of the drug she has been taking to cope with it. The first two segments are entertaining and at times riveting, while the third takes a significant detour and goes off-track, losing much of what makes the first two parts appealing in its indulgence in full-on absurdity that remains more tempered earlier on in the film.

White Noise reunites writer-director Noah Baumbach with two of his most dependable leads. Though Baumbach for the first time is adapting another person’s work rather than working from an original screenplay, the voice of Jeff Daniels’ protagonist from The Squid and the Whale can so clearly be heard in Driver’s turn, a much more comedic take than he delivered in his previous collaboration with Baumbach, Marriage Story. Driver is a perfect fit to play the self-aggrandizing Jack, and it’s particularly wonderful to see Baumbach’s real-life partner, Gerwig, return to acting after a recent shift to directing films like Lady Bird and Little Women. Cassidy and Nivola are both very talented, as is Nicola’s younger sister, May, who plays the third pretentious child in the Gladney household.

As notable as the cast performance are the production values, with tremendous effort exhausted to recreate the era in which this film is set. The design of a supermarket is particular is astonishing, stocked with thousands of colorful products and central to the film’s story and themes. Many scenes take place among the carefully-constructed aisles, with great meaning attributed to the design of a place that could be remarkable and rewarding and also maddening and claustrophobic. It’s a good way to describe the film, which at some points achieves something extraordinary in its skewering of unfounded elitism and at others misses the mark, going for something glorious and earth-shattering and not quite achieving it. Overall, it still remains an engaging and worthwhile experience, one with plenty to say about the human condition.

136 minutes

Story – B

Acting – B+

Technical – B+

Overall – B

‘White Noise.’ Courtesy of Netflix.

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