If you've been following Noah Baumbach's work over the past few years -- including The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), Marriage Story (2019) and most recently White Noise (all of which are now available on Netflix) -- it's clear the American director can work nimbly across a range of genres.
White Noise is a quirky comedy-drama based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo. It's set in an American suburb in the 1980s and involves characters who attempt to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while simultaneously grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world. While I'm still processing what I liked or disliked about the film, or what to really make of it, White Noise is without a doubt one of the strangest movies you will ever see on Netflix.
The film sees Baumbach reunite with his Marriage Story actor Adam Driver, his real-life partner Greta Gerwig, as well as Don Cheadle. The team works really well together towards executing this somewhat absurdist and satirical look at a family experiencing a sort of existential crisis during a disaster. The family is led by Jack Gladney (Driver) whose life is upended by a series of unfortunate events compounded by the stress of his work. He does his best to provide for his family of four children while struggling to learn German for an upcoming speech relating to his career as a Hitler studies professor. Jack's wife Babette (Gerwig) also battles with personal phobias and the character experiences various emotional episodes as part of attempts to numb her feelings. The family also explores several mysteries surrounding their very existence, such as the precarious balance between life and death. An airborne toxic event in the city further exacerbates their feelings of dread.
The Gladney family.
From a technical standpoint, this is a beautiful movie to watch. The cinematography is enveloping and provides some very intimate framings that made me feel up close and personal with the characters. The designs are also outstanding too as the clothing, furniture and cars do genuinely transport us back to the early 80s.
The story in the first act is dialogue heavy and of odd narration. None of the characters talk like normal human beings and the meaning of most conversations between characters are a bit difficult to discern at times. They always talk about random topics that almost never connect with what's supposed to happen in the story. My only guess as to why the movie is structured like this is that it shows how people are constantly bombarded with messages from media and society and how it all adds up to a pile of noise, which kind of makes sense given the movie's title. However, when a scene is taken as a whole later on, the words all come together to give a cohesive narrative for that particular sequence. And because the relationships fluctuate with the film's events, their story becomes more intriguing as a result.
Like some of Baumbach's previous films, White Noise feels like an experiment wherein different ideas are put together. The three acts in the story feel like completely different genres when looked at separately, almost to the point where it feels like an anthology yet it involves the same characters. But within these types of scenes, there is smartly written dialogue that helps build intensity and excitement. The first act follows the academic life of Jack and how the subject of academia itself can be problematic. The second act is the airborne toxic event and how people create their own disasters. During this portion of the movie, there are some slight similarities to excellent sci-fi movies, and this film can easily be put alongside Jordan Peele's Nope from last year. The third act, however, falls into full-on family drama and the need for escaping the mundane nature of everyday life. All of these plots are so different individually, but when put together, with occasionally dark humour, it's quite a fun ride.
White Noise is worth watching despite its weirdness. There's humour, satire and absurdity that all work together to keep us off balance while creating intrigue. Overall, if you like quirky and odd, but something that's not too off the wall, or if you want to see a film that explores its themes in an unconventional way, this one would be right up your alley.
- White Noise
- Starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle
- Directed by Noah Baumbach
- Now streaming on Netflix