Gemma Creagh divorces Noah Baumbach’s post Marriage Story offering.
A renowned master of Hitler studies, college professor Jack Gladney – played by a portly Adam Driver – is the king of his suburban castle. He adores his passive and forgetful wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), as well as his eclectic collection of strange, articulate children. Along with their friends and neighbours, the Gladneys worship at the altar of their local supermarket, a mecca of processed foods in brash, bold, colourful containers. However, this comfortable life is disrupted when a nearby chemical leak causes “The Airborne Toxic Event”, releasing a looming, dangerous black cloud that spreads across the region.
The Gladney family are forced to leave their home, staying at various camps and ultimately face their own mortality. When trying to fill up the family car with petrol mid-evacuation, Jack is exposed to the toxic gas, something that he’s informed afterwards – rather indistinctively – that will lead to his death… At some stage. Maybe. When it’s finally safe to return home post “event”, Jack finds that his comfortable life is permanently altered. He secretly carries around the burden of his impending doom, and his marriage becomes marred in suspicion – what are the pills Babette has been taking? Can he come to terms with his fear of death?
It’s a classic issue of form over substance. While the world of White Noise is enjoyable, and the humour undeniably razor sharp, the plot is too meandering – especially for a film of this length. This, teamed with the fact that the pacing is slow, the characters are somewhat underdeveloped and the theme is too abstract to relate to the subject matter, all means the second half of this film becomes quite a slog. Writer/director Noah Baumbach, who penned the screenplay based on a book by Don Delillo, is no stranger to heightened, theatrical dialogue. However, his characters’ words in White Noise are so verbose and unnatural, they tend to stick in the actors’ mouths at times.
Many of this film’s gaps are plastered over by the emotional depths reached by Driver and Gerwig. The pair dig deep, and their easy affection and muted, long-form chemistry sell a relationship which is rather undercooked on the page. In many ways, this is a deeply timely story, about how disasters, quarantine and existential quandaries affect both the masses and the middle class family dynamic. There are even hints to a morally questionable German pharma industry, paired with a corporate obsession with consumerism and consumption.
The production design is a gleaming nod to that wholesome classic Americana aesthetic, bold block primary colours, that turn to sleazy heightened neon as the dynamic shifts to darker subject matter, but every scene is a visual treat.
Despite big ambitions, the problems with this film ultimately stem from the fact that the individual elements don’t quite gel. The story remains a visualised novel rather than a film – both in form and structure, yet there is still plenty to enjoy in White Noise’s rather random offerings, especially for die hard Baumbachaphiles.
White Noise is in cinemas from 9th December 2022.