‘White Noise’ Review: Noah Baumbach’s New Apocalyptic Movie Is The Most American Movie Ever Made

Fear not the reaper

“Television does much of our predatory human research for us,” David Foster Wallace wrote in his 1993 essay on the impact of television and irony on American culture. “American human beings are a slippery, protean bunch.”

His contemporary, Don DeLillo, also explored this notion in White noisea novel that guides us through a ragged family’s involvement in academic absurdity, narcotics intrigue, and what happens when the nuclear family is really exposed to something nuclear. In both the 1985 novel and director Noah Baumbach’s new adaptation, White noise explore how, or more precisely, how Yes — we can navigate a world in which Americans are kept culturally and pharmaceutically serene by an array of real and metaphorical drugs, amid a constant onslaught of disaster, spectacle, and death.

Even for Baumbach, White noise it’s dark, but it’s also one of his funniest movies in years and perhaps his best attempt yet to capture the essence of modern America.

Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver play Babette and Jack Gladney, the other’s fourth spouse. He is a preeminent scholar of Hitler Studies and Advanced Nazism at the local university. She is a corkscrew posture teacher at the local church. Gladney’s progeny typify the cacophony of American life: Her shared children include Denise (Raffey Cassidy), who reads medical journals for fun; the suspicious and sensitive Steffie; little boy Wilder; and Heinrich (Sam Nivola), a precocious teenager who can get reams of information like a sensitive search engine.

In their overlapping conversations full of half-truths and folksy speculation, Jack warmly tells us, “Family is the world’s cradle of misinformation.” But between the chaotic meals and community television (the preferred family option is plane crash news rather than sitcoms), it’s clear that Babette is keeping a secret from her husband and eagle-eyed daughter about a drug. outside the market known as Dylan. Naturally, before they can get to the bottom of it, the entire town is thrown into chaos when an “airborne toxic event” forces them to flee their homes.

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Much of the film takes place in a chemically colorful supermarket, which we are told is a “sacred place” filled with “psychic data”, shot in the primary colors of the Rubix cube by cinematographer Lol Crawley. The supermarket itself epitomizes the titular white noise Baumbach is exploring here, with myriad consumer products and artificially lit aisles lending a plastic unreality to the proceedings. Paired with a 35mm anamorphic lens and era-specific products, this visual time capsule is ready for latent and tongue-in-cheek cultural analysis.

Sam Nivola as Heinrich, Adam Driver as Jack, May Nivola as Steffie, Greta Gerwig as Babette, Dean Moore/Henry Moore as Wilder, and Raffey Cassidy as Denise in White noise.Wilson Webb/Netflix

Perhaps this kind of high-concept plot doesn’t seem right for hypernaturalist Noah Baumbach, but his experience taking apart and stitching back together the family unit in earlier films like The squid and the whale Y marriage story give the director an entry point into DeLillo’s occasionally distant novel. While satirical, there’s no hoax here; Baumbach imbues a typical warmth and reality in his characters, who you care about and really want to succeed.

This is achieved, in part, thanks to the film’s pacing and patience; there’s no rush to get us into the next toxic explosion or big monologue, but rather a nice focus on characterization. In his first on-screen acting role in six years, Gerwig imbues his character with weight and pathos who, in the hands of a less capable actor, might have seemed impenetrably wacko. Elsewhere, characters like academic Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle) and eccentric drug lord Mr. Gray (Lars Eidinger) infuse a real sense of charisma and memorability to the film’s supporting cast.

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A mix of orchestral and electronic music in Danny Elfman’s score represents this shifting approach to satire, irony, and empathy. We may laugh at the parodic dialogue mixed with ’80s sound cues, but we’re also moved by the film’s slower scenes, designed to draw out deep feelings. A new song from LCD Soundsystem plays during the supermarket dance sequence in the credits: a surreal closing that manifests the infectious desire to move your body in response to the sounds, colors and stimuli of your controlled environment.

Don Cheadle and Adam Driver in White noise.Netflix

Despite a clearly demarcated three-pronged structure: “Waves and Radiation”, “The Airborne Toxic Event” and “Dylarama”, some may criticize White noiseChanging tonal balances. The film has a habit of presenting the viewer with anachronistic scenes and then abandoning them for new ones. Some viewers may wonder why the central toxic event ends up being more of a MacGuffin than something the plot legitimately revolves around.

But Nope It’s not the only movie this year to frame disaster as a uniquely American spectacle, or to comment on the way our brains are becoming more and more programmed to pick up and dismiss thoughts in a matter of seconds. White noise he keenly understands how our prophylactic response to a real or imagined disaster is in constant and inextricable conversation with shifting cultural structures designed to keep us dumb and drooling.

As “fragile creatures surrounded by hostile facts,” the Gladney clan could be any normal family forced to deal with the plastic underbelly of suburban America, where domesticity naturally turns to chaos. Baumbach has struck a deft game of balance here: making us laugh at the nonsensical points of view that are avoided in conversations between characters, while also allowing us to chew on the idea of ​​our own agency and mortality in a world where we’re all doomed. to die. .

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White noise It will hit theaters on November 25 and on Netflix on December 30.

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