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Film Review: White Noise (2022)

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★

Available on Netflix | Runtime: 2 hrs 16 mins

 

Noah Baumbach takes on the postmodern novel White Noise by Don DeLillo in this 2022 dark comedy starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. And while the film doesn’t quite capture the complexity and absurdism of the classic book, it does manage to be an entertaining satire on academia and consumerism with strong performances from its leads.

The story follows Jack Gladney (Driver), professor of Hitler studies at a liberal arts college, and his quirky family as they deal with an ‘airborne toxic event’ (read Covid19) that forces an evacuation of their small midwestern town. This crisis allows Baumbach to poke holes at both the privileged lives of academics obsessed with theories as well as a media and government that tries to downplay catastrophes.


Greta Gerwig plays Jack’s wife Babette, who has her own fascination with prescription drugs and an affair with a colleague. Their eccentric children bring both humour and eerie plot developments.


Like the book, the film revels in word play, symbolism and satirising 80s consumer culture. It’s both amusing and unsettling to see the characters obsess over brand names, status and ‘white noise’ (radiation, television, media) while struggling with their own morality and fear of death. Baumbach manages to keep the story moving at a brisk pace between oddball humour and suspense.

Yet for all its satire, White Noise misses some of the complexity of Delillo’s writing. Much of the focus lands on Jack and Babette when the novel spreads its absurd take on contemporary life across a wider cast. The apocalyptic atmosphere of the book also gets diluted for comedy. The acting and dialogue are sharp as knives, but viewers who enjoyed DeLillo’s distinctive prose may feel key aspects lost in translation.


Nevertheless, Baumbach cooks up an original, offbeat film that bridges intellectual satire and accessible comedy. The characters are at once eccentric, funny and troubled in ways that many can relate to. And Driver’s portrait of the pompous professor obsessed with death is one audiences shouldn’t miss. White Noise may not be fine dining, but it is a flavourful dish with spicy performances, cultural critique and a steady stream of absurd laughs.



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