FILM REVIEW / REVIEW – After “The Meyeowitz Stories” and “Marriage Story”, filmmaker Noah Baumbach signs his third film on the Netflix platform with “White Noise”. Ambitious adaptation of the eponymous novel by Don DeLillo, “White Noise” is a contemporary work but a little sufficient.
White Noisean astonishing mix of genres
Written in 1985 by Don DeLillo, White Noise (Background noise in French), is a famous novel that won the National Book Award. reputed to be very difficult to adapt, it depicts American society at the end of the 1980s through an erudite bourgeois family. The book is a dark satire that addresses many themes such as consumerism, misinformation, drug addiction, or the disintegration of the family cocoon. So many topics that are taken up by Noah Baumbach in its adaptation White Noise.
Like Don DeLillo’s novel, Noah Baumbach’s film mixes genres with a certain mastery and above all in a very playful way for the spectators. White Noise thus invokes comedy, the absurd, science fiction, the disaster film, the social film on a dysfunctional family, the thriller, and even offers a few rare visions of horror.
Noah Baumbach begins his work with a light and absurd comedy. He uses this prism to place his pawns, especially in a noisy opening sequence that depicts organized chaos, a sort of mantra for the rest of the feature film. Via the comic dimension he presents his characters and this blended family. We discover an elitist family cocoon, lively, bourgeois, intelligent and often enoughwho tries to stay out of the crowd, but who will end up being like the crowd, unable to be really different from the rest of the world.
From comedy to SF to De Palma
Then, gradually, White Noise falls into pure science fiction. Noah Baumbach stages a toxic cloud heading towards our protagonists’ city like a real alien invasion. For half an hour the feature film calls on the cinema of Steven Spielbergremember Stranger Thingsand depicts the threat of a radioactive cloud with a truly mind-blowing aesthetics. This fake alien invasion then turns into big disaster movie with its share of shots from above on characters raising their heads to the sky, the traditional traffic jams on blocked roads, and the panic of a crowd overwhelmed by events.
Concretely, this is the best trajectory of the film before he slips into a social proposal. Noah Baumbach falls into his usual failings and cannot help but portray a family that is torn apartin particular through a couple’s dispute which unmistakably recalls Marriage Story (the presence ofAdam Driver has something to do with it). All this to end in an unhealthy thriller, which parodies the black cinema of Brian DePalma.
Much ado about not much
Thus, on the form, White Noise is a extremely contemporary work, often galvanizing, which keeps the mind of the viewer always active. Nevertheless, this organized chaos is sometimes too markedand finally does not say much… It is quite clear that with White Noise, Noah Baumbach wants to analyze a society that needs to identify with a guideto a powerful, to a code of conduct.
The director exposes a society which is obliged to follow a predefined route so as not to fall into the pure and simple apocalypse. The filmmaker also characterizes a narrow-minded, smug, haughty elitist family, convinced of being better than the others thanks to their cultural baggage, but who, once the cataclysm is at its doorstep, behave exactly like ordinary mortals.
Noah Baumbach also offers a study of death in three parts – especially via the characters of Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. First with the fascination of death, then the fear of death, before concluding with a somewhat simplistic moral: acceptance of death to lead to acceptance of life. Around this ultimately very simplistic articulation, Noah Baumbach loses himself in a surge of information, more or less relevant criticisms, and themes sometimes simply touched upon.
A very empty Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach therefore loses his point in a tedious and somewhat vain frenzy. White Noise moves in all directions as if to hide the lack of depth of its story, and its themes that remain on the surface. The filmmaker thus wanders between satire, indictments on religion, consumerism, collective hysteria, disinformation, death, and a commentary on the state of health which inevitably echoes COVID. This perpetual chaos quickly becomes a intellectual wank where Noah Baumbach talks about everything to finally talk about nothing…
His philosophical reflections then become mere rhetorical observations. The overexposure sometimes too long of his situationsunnecessarily boring, often lacking in madness. White Noise would have gained in impact via a more delirious narration, with, why not, temporal caesuras. And even if White Noise is an ambitious, visually stunning proposition, the film errs on the side of confidenceor egocentrism, and the filmmaker, like his hero, gets lost, in a falsely intellectual windwho lacks humility, and which is ultimately just window dressing.