White Noise, Don DeLillo’s great novel, is many things – a postmodern comedy about academia, a damning critique of consumerism, a meditation on the fear of death, an apocalyptic epic, an experimental deconstruction of American culture. What many believed it wasn’t, however, was adaptable. Noah Baumbach is here to prove them wrong with perhaps the most daring and entertaining movie of the year.
White Noise stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig as a married couple (their fourth marriage) in the early 1980s. doing his best with the four children they share, from different marriages and together. One day, a train crashes near their college community, releasing poisonous gas that prompts an evacuation. The film is told in three parts: before, during and after the “airborne toxic event”, and was probably the most fun audiences had at the New York Film Festival, where it premiered as a title. opening.
Baumbach’s Postmodern White Noise Ballet
Beloved Adam Driver transforms into Jack Gladney, a middle-aged schlub in White Noise, with pot-bellied, prescription sunglasses halfway between silly and scary. He’s amazing here, as is Gerwig, playing his perpetually-permanent wife Babette (“she’s got prominent hair,” one character says). They seem to really enjoy their lives and dance around the kitchen table discussing esoteric topics while their children’s choir cuts in like a radio switching from one channel to another. Even when a traffic accident and Babette’s mysterious addiction to pills cause massive conflict, threatening everyone’s life and sanity, the film carries the same energetic Gladney joie de vivre.
Even though the airborne toxic event threatens their lives (in addition to a bizarre, off-the-shelf pill named Dylar), the whirlwind cinema on display here keeps even the surreal or silly moments somehow believable and gripping. That’s partly because Baumbach films it all so well, evoking the incredibly detailed soundscape and panoply of dialogue from Robert Altman’s films. There always seems to be at least one person talking in White Noise; if you can keep up, it’s utterly exhilarating and the most exciting thing on screen this year.
Along with the Gladney family (which also includes the truly awesome sibling actors Sam and May Nivola, plus a wonderful Raffey Cassidy, like their children), White Noise features the talents of the great Lars Eidinger (an unhinged mystery man), Don Cheadle (a specialist in Elvis studies), André Benjamin (a university professor) and Jodie Turner-Smith (a cold scientist).
The whole film feels like a postmodern ballet (something that becomes literal by its closing credits, set to a brand new song by LCD Soundsystem), with the anamorphic camera work seamlessly changing focus and following movement. of several characters. Physical movement aside, auditory movement is relentless, with the film’s sound design shifting from voice to voice in subtle ways. Sitting down and checking out this movie is a real treat, and while it can be streamed on Netflix, watching it in a theater is unforgettable.
Don DeLillo’s Dialogue Comes To Life In White Noise
It’s not just the balletic audio, but the very words each character speaks that is so spellbinding. While Baumbach is a modern master of dialogue, White Noise’s success is ultimately due to DeLillo, who crams so many intimidating, clever, and fun lines into a single book that it’s surprising every paperback doesn’t explode. immediately like a jack-in-the-box, bursting from the seams. Baumbach wisely transfers the novel’s words almost line for line in places, even though the film is missing some of the larger parts of the novel (such as the “most photographed barn in America” section).
It’s an extremely difficult task, however, trying to film DeLillo’s dialogue (which is intellectual to the point of parody, but still illuminating). It’s often hard to imagine real human beings saying the author’s broad lines – “The family is the cradle of the world’s disinformation”; “California people invented the concept of lifestyle. This alone justifies their loss; “Let the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan.
Somehow, almost miraculously, Baumbach and his cast manage to pull it off in spades. The filmmaker incorporates much of the brilliant dialogue from the original novel, which often contrasts sharply with Baumbach’s more naturalistic films, such as Marriage Story, The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha. In fact, this whole movie seems like a weird passion project for Baumbach, a true anomaly in his much more down to earth career, as White Noise is anything but down to earth.
From its meticulously choreographed sequences, its grand disaster movie scripts, its CGI moments, and its massive assortment of practical extras and effects, White Noise is the furthest thing one would expect from Baumbach, at least in surface. It’s a great, ridiculous film based on one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century, an epic that earned it the nickname “Great American Novel.” However, White Noise is perhaps closer to Baumbach’s themes than to style.
Baumbach, Gerwig and Driver bring white noise to the screen
Noah Baumbach has always been interested in simultaneously critiquing and celebrating intellectualism. From the poor parenting of brilliant intellectuals in The Squid and the Whale, to the complete lack of life experience of the intellectual played by Ben Stiller in Greenberg, Baumbach has been like a much more successful Whit Stillman – dissecting, parodying , but also embracing the very white intellectual (usually in a New York setting).
White Noise also explores Baumbach’s enduring theme of honest marital difficulties. Filmed with his current partner, writer/director/actress Greta Gerwig, whom he met on the set of Greenberg alongside Baumbach’s wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, White Noise is most emotionally poignant when it focuses on the beauties, the banality, the terrors, and the struggles of marriage. These aren’t the funniest or most exciting moments in the film, but Baumbach seems to be carving out a new path, an emotional core, in DeLillo’s cold romance along this path.
What makes it all work is Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, who somehow manage to adopt the same stilted formalism of DeLillo’s dialogue but with a three-dimensional life outside of the novel. What they’re doing here is nothing short of magical, slipping into postmodern caricatures of human beings, wearing their clothes for a while, and literally bringing them to life. If Baumbach’s film is anything separate from DeLillo’s White Noise, it’s thanks to these two actors, who fully commit to characters that shouldn’t seem real at all. Somehow, in their total commitment to formalistic dialogue, Driver and Gerwig create real people.
White Noise could be the best movie of the year
If this all sounds abstract and confusing, that’s because White Noise is too. It’s a movie where people study the beauty of car crashes, where they speak poetically of Hitler and Elvis in the same Shakespearean cadence, where they debate the proper terminology to define the massive cloud of death raining down on them.
It’s not a neat movie, and it doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It’s a family comedy, and then it’s an apocalyptic nightmare; it’s a suspenseful thriller, and then it’s a cartoonish musical. Just as DeLillo’s novel was so jam-packed with ideas, Baumbach’s White Noise brims with cinema, oozing brilliance in the haphazard way, jumping from one brilliant scene to the next without a moment’s respite. It’s painfully relentless at times, never going where you expect it to, and thus rewarding multiple viewings (preferably in theaters).
Between the “airborne toxic event,” evacuations, and quarantines, much of White Noise feels like the ultimate Covid movie. Exploring the before, during and after, White Noise feels like the most comprehensive film about our collective experience of Covid-19 and the existential trauma most of us have endured.
While the third act stumbles a bit, tripping over the weight of its own ideas and veering into utter stupidity, it’s the truly perfect Covid movie. Despite its endless flaws and contradictions, the experiment Baumbach undertook here pays off, exploring death and social anxieties better than anything else in recent years. It’s goofy but dark; it’s challenging but endlessly entertaining; he has an impressive intelligence, but it is incomprehensible. It’s perfectly flawed, and possibly the best film of the year.
Produced by Heyday Films, NBGG Pictures and A24, White Noise will be in theaters on November 25 and will be available on Netflix from December 30.
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