LFF 2022: White Noise – Review

Release Date – 2nd December 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 15 minutes, Director – Noah Baumbach

After a chemical spill causes his entire town to evacuate college professor Jack (Adam Driver), alongside his family, begins to face many personal struggles revolving around his life and mortality.

After the multi-Oscar nominated success of Marriage Story Noah Baumbach returns with something perhaps on the complete other end of the scale. It’s a slight shock to the system, perhaps, as he tackles the realms of an existential, occasionally absurdist, comedy drama focusing on a college lecturer who specialises in “Advanced Nazisim”. Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) may just be “One of the most prominent Hitler studiests in America”. He has a good working life and comfortable family situation as well. However, his calm life of strange debates with colleagues is brought to a halt as a nearby chemical spill expands into a dark black and purple cloud billowing over the town and creating an airborne toxic event.

We see Jack constantly denying any form of havoc just before he and his family are forced to leave their home and join the increasing traffic jam of other families seeking refuge. It’s as we leave the seemingly unfocused, somewhat uncertain first act and enter into the escalation of the evacuation that things begin to pick up. There are certainly a handful of lines and parallels that can be drawn to the pandemic – particularly with some of the more satirical reflections which crop up within the strand of the toxic airborne event having potential links to the pandemic, although the film itself is based on Dom DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name – which to some extent create a somewhat ‘late’/ dated feel to the film before it moves on to other focuses.

This is a rather busy film with all the themes and ideas that it presents. The chemical spill strand and evacuation is built up as the main arc of the narrative before suddenly swerving back home to bring in a line about Jack, and his wife Babbette (Greta Gerwig), facing complex thoughts and emotions on life and love. All while still slightly veiled under a farcical style of comedy. A tone which often clashes with the more dramatic edges and sequences of the piece when arriving immediately after. Throughout the somewhat lengthy 2 hours plus run-time of the film there’s an overall weird mix of tones and genres which never completely gel together.

The performances may be good, and there may be some occasional chuckles in the more comedic scenes, but as a whole the film feels messy both tonally and thematically. It doesn’t completely become certain what the film is trying to get across until the various conversations about mortality and relationships between Driver and Gerwig’s characters in the second half of the film. Everything beforehand, while having some good moments, simply feels like rather patchy build-up where the film is almost working out in real-time what it actually wants to be.

It’s for this reason that your engagement and interest fluctuates throughout the film and you’re never truly fully engaged with it. There’s an undeniably strange mix at the centre of it. Wanting to capture something similar to the muddled and confused thoughts of the central characters as they face aspects of their lives that they’ve pushed to the side for so long, but never quite manages to find the right match. There are some good points and moments here and there, and this is largely what keeps you engaged and the film going, but you never can quite get over how jumbled the film – like its characters – seems to be.

At one moment an uncertain set of conversations and musings between family and colleagues, the next National Lampoon’s Apocalyptic Vacation. There’s a lot going on within White Noise and the jumble of tones and themes never quite gels together properly despite the efforts of the cast pushing things along and getting across some of the occasional chuckles.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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