Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Written by: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola

Rating: [3.5/5]

Death, no matter how much we run from it, is a reality we will all meet someday. This truth sits in our minds every day but it’s up to us whether we will let that thought rise to the surface and cause the existential dread it can potentially create. An idea that jumps right out into the forefront of all the characters’ minds in White Noise. A feature that is certainly not for everyone, but when you’ve got Noah Baumbach at the wheel, you know you’re in for a treat. 

Following an explosion of a truck and a train, a poisonous gas cloud forms that causes a state of emergency for this Ohio city. It leaves Jack (Adam Driver) and his family to evacuate and find shelter where so many thoughts enter their head with them not being sure who they will be if they reach the other side of this tragedy. 

Stories deemed to be unadaptable comes from the idea that something in the text makes it challenging to visually and structurally put into a feature film. It makes it all the more enjoyable when a filmmaker takes it and manages to make it digestible in a way no one could ever expect. From the onset of this film, it becomes quite obvious why this film received this tag and it comes from the dialogue of these characters. The way these characters speak almost sounds alien and not the way any typical family would speak about events around the world or the simple malaise of their everyday existence. It will prove to be off-putting for some but it most certainly won me over. 

The unrealistic sheen of the dialogue very much matches the aesthetic of this feature and how this setting feels like it’s of another world but with humans living in it. There remains this strange feeling of artificiality and nothing encapsulates it more than the supermarket where everything is pristine to a startling degree. Certainly a showcase for the production design, but it ties everything together. The feat of adapting this story could not have fallen into better hands than Noah Baumbach. He smooths it out to make it off-putting but still incredibly funny, which gets bolstered by the actors acing everything given to them in the feature. 

With grand themes on the mind of this tale and with larger potentially world-ending stakes, this feature required something new and different for Baumbach. Mostly known for terrific small-scale familial dramas, with this film he receives his largest budget and he manages it fairly well. This feature also serves as his first film not put together by his original screenplay as he takes a turn at adapting a previously written work, which certainly comes across in how different it feels from his other films. In all reality, one could say Baumbach had reached the zenith of his style and writing with previous works Marriage Story and Frances Ha and perhaps he just wanted to go in a completely different direction and try something new. It certainly does not have the feel of a typical Baumbach work, but his style manages to still shine in moments. 

Among the heady themes this film wants to tackle like the existential threat of death, the one that proved to be the most intriguing was the ways humans react to upcoming disasters. This dominates much of the first half of the feature as this potential life-ending cloud hovers above all the characters. It puts you in the position to ask how you would react. Whether it be a sense of denial, doubt, calmness, or outright lunacy. All of this gets experienced with Jack and his family as several moments present these perspectives. It makes for so many fun pieces of dialogue between Jack and his kids, especially in the way it depicts the shifty nature of disseminated information. It demonstrates how much of it can change in an instant and then alter the emotion of any scene. This occurs on many occasions in the first half, particularly articulated through Jack’s son and his obsession with trying to figure out what it all means. 

Unlike any other Baumbach film you have ever seen White Noise juggles with so much and while the third act truly goes off the rails, the feature is something fascinating to take in. The rate at which the characters speak and the ideas constantly thrown out makes for such a fascinating viewing experience that, at times, had me hooked. Yes, I can see why this novel has been deemed unadaptable and while certain elements do not work, Baumbach did a fairly stellar job at piecing it together for something wholly entertaining.   

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