White Noise Review

Noah Baumbach movies tend to be roller coaster rides for our emotions. From Marriage Story to While We Were Young to The Squid and the Whale we follow these characters and either relate to them or are compelled to see how the story ends. While White Noise is a roller coaster ride, it is hard to stay on track at times and you have to double-check sometimes to make sure you are still on the roller coaster.

White Noise feels like it was three movies that have been combined into one movie. This is an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel and while I have not read the novel it feels like Baumbach took bits and pieces of the novel to create this movie. The movie starts off feeling like it is a family drama. Jack is a professor at the college that teaches a course on Hitler and his wife Babette keeps him grounded and helps out with a fitness class here and there. They talk to each other in a way that’s scholarly and inquisitive and their children talk in the same manner. The older daughter sees Babette taking some type of drug and starts digging to see what she is taking and where it came from. Family drama!

White Noise. (L to R) Adam Driver as Jack, Greta Gerwig as Babette, and Don Cheadle as Murray in White Noise. Cr. Wilson Webb/Netflix © 2022

When asked to assist his fellow colleague Murray Suskind, played by Don Cheadle, in a lecture Jack shares his knowledge of Hitler while helping to elevate Murray’s classes. The movie cuts between scenes of Jack lecturing and a truck crashing into a freight train. This accident causes an “Airborne Toxic Event”. This is when the movie takes a science fiction turn. The mysterious cloud starts slowly creeping over the town and everyone is told to evacuate. Going back to the dialogue of the movie, when told by their son that the police just announced for them to evacuate Babette asks if the announcement was a suggestion while Jack asks about the intonation of the policeman’s voice to see if the announcement is serious.

Finally, the movie turns into a mystery of finding out about the drug that Babette is taking. It kind of circles back to the beginning storyline. I don’t want to give much away about the third act but it feels like this could have been its own movie. Going back to the roller coaster analogy, the third act should have us feeling like we are returning to the starting point of the movie but we take a hard left and start to wonder where are we going now.

The acting by Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig is great to see. They tackle their roles with such ease that the dialogue, as interesting as it is, just rolls off of their tongue. The young children that play their kids: Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Dean Moore/Henry Moore, and Raffey Cassidy, also tackle the dialogue with such panache that you wonder why children do not talk like this nowadays. Although their performances are strong, the mishmash of the story feels to damper the characters and not give them the shine that they need.

White Noise. (L to R) Sam Nivola as Heinrich, Adam Driver as Jack, May Nivola as Steffie, Greta Gerwig as Babette, Dean Moore/Henry Moore as Wilder and Raffey Cassidy as Denise in White Noise. Cr. Wilson Webb/Netflix © 2022

White Noise was part of the Comedy program during the Chicago International Film Festival

Final Thoughts: White Noise by Noah Baumbach is like watching three movies in one. At times it feels like the movie does not know what it wants to be. It is a science fiction thriller one minute, next it’s a family drama, and then it turns into a mystery regarding a drug that is being used by the mother. I’m not sure if Baumbach was overwhelmed with the material given, but this movie feels all over the place at times. The movie is something to be experienced if not for the acting at least for the dance number that closes out the movie.

Kid-Friendly: White Noise does have some great performances by the child actors but this movie is not for kids. The dense dialogue, while impressive, might turn away some kids. The theme of a toxic cloud bringing doom to the world and causing panic might remind kids of the early days of the pandemic. Seeing the actors walk around in masks might hit too close to home. I would recommend this for children 17 and up.

Violence: The violence in the movie takes place in the third act. There is a revenge plot that involves a gun. Early on in the movie, there is a violent car crash that the aftermath is shown as Jack and his family drive by.

At once hilarious and horrifying, lyrical and absurd, ordinary and apocalyptic, White Noise dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.

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