After the success of Noah Baumbach’s last film for Netflix, the awards courting and winning Marriage Story it will come as no surprise that he has been given a large budget to make his next feature. With his usual eye for acerbic wit he brings us White Noise.
Adapting the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, we meet Jack Gladney, a married professor of Hitler studies terrified of death, his wife Babette and their blended family of four. When a made made disaster causes an airborne toxic event, they must go out onto the road and Jack must contend with the fact that Babette might be hiding something.
It’s hard to fault the cast of Baumbach’s film, especially Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, both are suitably garish in their attire, looking like a poor person’s idea of middle class in the 80s. Driver, in particular, less the buff dream boat he was as Kylo Ren sports the middle aged paunch of a man who is comfortable.
The biggest issue with the film is that much like the novel it’s a story of three parts. The first, a satire on the wolrd of family and academia is fun enough with scenes of caustic dialogue between family members and scoff inducing lectures on Hitler and Elvis. It works for the most part because you buy into this highly stylised world, and the ongoing friction of a family made from different origins.
The middle section, detailing the toxic event and the family’s attempt to remain safe is the most rewarding. Like Baumbach’s style take on a Roland Emmerich movie, it works because there’s a genuine affection for the disaster movie genre, and the familiar trappings through a new lens. An action sequence of sorts sees Driver middle-aged dad jog through a crowd, managing to run into absolutely everyone as if he’s doing it on purpose.
This section also works as a road movie, and one that could have sustained the entire film, including a mid-90s style attempts at sailing a car through a river while children ask questions no parent could possibly know the answer to.
This section disappointingly is done with in favour of a third one that details Babette’s use of a fictional drug called Dylar, and the shady goings on around her new found addiction. A scene in which Driver and Gerwig attempt to discuss their feelings has the feeling of both of them showing off their Oscar clip reel for consideration causing an already laboured story element to go on for far too long. Despite the third part resolving itself well, and a fun closing credits there’s not much to be said about it as it’s simply less involving than what came before.
For those who enjoy Baumbach’s work this will be an essential text, but for everyone else it’s held aloft by that middle sequence and both Driver and Gerwig’s central performances. A lot of noise, not much impact.