Unfilmable books seem to be Hollywood’s greatest challenge . Many have succeeded (Lord Of The Rings, Trainspotting), others like Noah Baumbach’s White Noise should have stayed unfilmed.
Tinseltown seem to get a little ambitious every now and then and take a detour off the remake path to make something original. Kudos to any film-maker adventurous to pick up the baton and try there chances. When it’s a book adaptation, not every book is suitable for a film version and Don DeLillo’s book is one of them.
Some may question, it’s not the book, possibly the choice of director. Baumbach has cemented his place in American arthouse and independent film-making. He’s not someone who would muster a budget of around $100 million (allegedly). After this mess would he see that type of money again? This is the same director who gave us the award winning Marriage Story (2019).
The film is adapted from Don DeLillo’s 1985 book of the same name and stars Adam Driver. He’s Jack Gladney a middle aged college professor in a small mid-western. He’s an expert in Hitler studies and is married to his pill popping wife Babette (Greta Gerwig). She hosts yoga classes for pensioners is on a verge of a nervous breakdown. Jack is also suspecting she’s also having an affair, but who with and what is Dylar? The pair do also have one common bond, there profound fear of death and constantly debate who should pop there clogs first.
They have four children, all from Jack’s other (failed) relationships. They maybe a happy brood, life is chaotic in the Gladney household. Life looks comfortable , things quickly change when an environmental accident happens on the edge of town. This forces the family to evacuate their home and head to a designated area.
White Noise and Noah Baumbach looks a marriage made in heaven. The dysfunctional family relationship which are a core part of his filmography. The spark for this one seems to have evaporated in the ‘airborne toxic event’. It’s not a disaster, it’s just not convincing at times. Not so much as the relationship with the kids, it’s Driver as Jack. He’s ever reliable for the director over the years , honestly his performance isn’t terrible just not compelling enough, nervy at times.
Greta Gerwig just happens to be the director’s actual partner. She delivers a decent turn, curious to see her own directorial effort Barbie out later this Summer with Baumbach scripting. Don Cheadle is fabulous as Professor Murray Suskind the college’s expert on all things Elvis. Pardon the expression, all ‘shook up’ and is underused. His 15 minutes (seconds) of fame come on a duet with Jack when the pair square off in a lecture. Intercutting between Hitler and Presley and the duel of minds which is actually one of the very few enjoyable parts of the films.
The film like the book is broke into three chapters. The first chapter all about setting the scene, nothing new, fairly uneventful. It’s only when we get to chapter two things start to pick up which we see the event that triggers the evacuation. The crash between the freight train and lorry which both carrying toxic chemicals. If there is any humour in this film it all came in this chapter whilst the family are in their car.
All hope is lost when we step into the final chapter.
Tonally White Noise is all over the place and can’t seem to get a grasp of the narrative. The emotion or momentum never seems to rise above base level. Thematically all boxes are ticked, with American consumerism at the core of the film. Never does things get too political, if anything gets a bit too heavy in satire. The supermarket becomes the centre of attention of the townsfolk. Colourful like it’s an art installation or even a religious place of worship, the church of Capitalism… It will nourish you as you grow up and the death of you too.
The timing of the film was spot on, with the recent world pandemic. The people day after day subjected endless vaccinations, changing daily restrictions, they have had enough.
The opening scene opens up with a lecture from Sunkind (Cheadle) on the car crash, sadly White Noise is a car crash that you’ll never want to experience ever again.
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2022 | 15 | Netflix | 30th December 2022 | Dir. Noah Baumbach | Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, May Nivola, Sam Nivola, Raffey Cassidy, Jodie Turner-Smith
This was originally posted at The Peoples Movies on 9th January 2023 | original Review link