Jack or J.A.K. Gladney (Adam Driver) doesn’t have a lot of nightmares in Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, but the one or two he has are memorable enough. One of these nightmares involve a ghostly male figure taking the place of his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig). Her nickname, Baba, is probably a pun which pays off for reason beyond this one nightmare. These occasional nightmares are a part of his tragicomic life. This life includes a chaotic home with a set of children and stepchildren (Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola). Adding to this quirkiness is his work life as an academic in a fictional university town.
Jack’s shares the campus with fellow professors (Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner Smith, Andre L. Benjamin) whose different fields of study and obsessions are suspiciously similar to his own academic and dated obsession with Adolf Hitler. Jack’s Reaganite life’s imperfections come to the forefront after a literal train wreck that upends their lives. After reading a few reviews of White Noise, it seems as if Baumbach left out a few things that readers may remember. Full disclosure: Out of DeLillo’s work I read and have no memory of Mao II and maybe Cosmopolis. I also saw most of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of the latter. But even with those omissions it feels like the most maximalist of Baumbach’s work.
The art direction is amazing here, with its depiction of bright grocery stores and rural anarchy. Baumbach also tries to throw every genre into the film like horror and comic horror. It makes this a mostly successful confluence of high and low art. A few scenes make it feel like a National Lampoon film which, among everything else, this is an 80s period piece so I’ll allow it. I also always like it when I watch a film that makes me feel like I’m hearing the English language for the first time. Although yes, what I’m hearing occasionally is clunky academia. Academia follows the Gladneys at their quasi-apocalyptic camps.
Academia also follows them back at, spoiler alert, home when the government and scientists stop the apocalypse from happening. Here I’ll bring up the the dialogue. That aspect of the film feels like a third act of a Puccini opera and not always in the best way. Also, the reason I bring up my experience with DeLillo is because at least two of his three works have the same third act. Two of the film’s saving grace, though, are Driver and Gerwig. Gerwig outperforms Driver with a face that can go red on demand. If both don’t perfectly succeed in making DeLillo’s words feel naturalistic but they make them feel fresh and relevant. Their hard work, as well as the cast and crew’s manifest in the screen and is its own reward.
- Rated: R
- Genre: Adaptation, Comedy, Drama, Horror
- Release Date: 12/2/2022
- Directed by: Noah Baumbach
- Starring: Adam Driver, André L. Benjamin, Don Cheadle, Greta Gerwig, Jodie Turner-Smith, May Nivola, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola
- Produced by: Brian Bell, David Heyman, Leslie Converse, Noah Baumbach, Uri Singer
- Written by: Don DeLillo, Noah Baumbach
- Studio: A24, Heyday Films, NBGG Pictures, Netflix