It’s often been said that White Noise is unfilmable. Taking on such a challenge could either birth a masterpiece or end in a spectacular tumble. Sadly, Noah Baumbach’s stab at DeLillo’s landmark novel feels like the director’s all too familiar attempt at highbrow cinema. Instead of being genuinely profound, it ends up as the average person’s idea of a clever film.
The story is set in the US of the 1980s, a decade marked by consumerism running wild. This theme is subtly conveyed through the protagonists’ routine visits to a large, shiny supermarket, wearing that era’s typical attire.
Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a leading academic in Hitler studies, yet curiously lacks fluency in German. His life revolves around his fourth wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), their combined children from previous relationships – Denise (Raffey Cassidy), Heinrich (Sam Nivola), Steffie (May Nivola) – and their youngest son, Wilder. Both Jack and Babette share a deep-rooted anxiety about death, which often emerges in their conversations.
This fear is brought into sharp focus when the “Airborne Toxic Event” occurs. A train carriage crashes into a lorry, releasing a dangerous chemical cloud over their town. The town’s residents are evacuated and quarantined as panic propagate. Once the immediate threat subsides, the community attempts to return to normalcy. However, Jack, having been exposed longer than most, grapples with his own mortality and the implications of Babette’s past actions.
At a glance, White Noise might look the part, but it’s much akin to a glossy book with nothing to say. It’s all about the style, leaving substance in the cold. The decision to tackle such a beloved text just to churn out a flashy display is a head-scratcher. As the title suggests, this film turns out to be a needless sequence of images and sounds.
Adam Driver is the sole bright spot, blending the outlandish with dry humour, and presenting a character that genuinely holds the viewer’s attention.
With a staggering $100 million production budget, White Noise feels like a grand misuse of cash, talent and – most painfully – a good two hours and 16 minutes of our lives.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
White Noise is released in select cinemas on 2nd December and available on Netflix on 30th December 2022.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
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