I am a huge fan of Noah Baumbach‘s penchant for absurdist comedy, even in the direst of familial situations. His Marriage Story ranks high in his impeccable filmography, and I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next after this. Unfortunately, his latest movie, White Noise, feels too absurd in its premise of an “airborne toxic event,” causing people to experience déjà vu and heart palpitations and sacrificing good character development.
Adam Driver plays Jack Gladney, a University Professor and founder of the Hitler Studies department, who lives with his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) and children. Their life becomes disrupted after a train accident disperses a cloud of toxin in the environment, which scientists dub the “airborne toxic event.”
That part of the movie is entertaining enough, especially when Jack is confident that the “airborne toxic event” won’t touch their house, as if it will “magically go away,” like President Trump promised when COVID-19 first hit the United States. Of course, it doesn’t and gets right in their face. They have to evacuate the area, and panic instills all over town.
White Noise misses the mark
Adam Driver is incredible as Gladney, perhaps even better than his previous performance in Marriage Story. He embraces the character’s absurd nature to the hundredth power and is amazingly magnifying to watch. The best sequence of the movie comes in a battle of lectures he gives on Hitler, while Don Cheadle’s Murray Siskind lectures on Elvis, and they talk simultaneously, vying for attention.
It’s a great showcase of the two actors’ talents, and I would’ve loved to see more of them in the film instead of spending the second act of the movie talking about Babette’s problems with an unknown drug named Dylar. What does it have to do with the “airborne toxic event”? Not much, and this is where the movie derails.
Even with the excellent screen presence of Driver, Cheadle, Gerwig, and minor supporting roles from Jodie Turner-Smith, Bill Camp, Barbara Sukowa, and André Benjamin, White Noise‘s second and third act is a drag. It ultimately hinders the film’s enticing first act, where absurdity takes hold and grips us from its opening scene to an incredibly directed car chase. Lol Crawley’s cinematography adds a great visual style to the movie and keeps us hooked, even when the script leaves little to be desired.
It’s unfortunate that White Noise ends in such a slog, even if the end credits dance number is weirdly fun to watch, though it’s not as good as After Yang‘s incredible opening credits dance sequence. And while there are fun moments to be had in White Noise for sure, the film goes on for way too long and overstays its welcome as soon as it starts to veer off its main plot and switch genres in a jarring and unsatisfying way. Maybe there will be audience members who will adore this film and think it’s one of Baumbach’s best, but I’m not one of them.
White Noise is now playing in select theaters and will stream on Netflix Dec. 31.