White Noise
Far from the typical Noah Baumbach film that perhaps becomes a bit too philosophical by the end.

White Noise

Dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempts to deal with the mundane conflicts of everyday life while grappling with the universal mysteries of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world.

A family tries to deal with the aftermath of an “Airborne Toxic Event” in . Jack Gladney () is a college professor living with his fourth wife, Babette () and their four children. The lives of the family change when a railway tank car crashes outside of town, releasing an unknown toxin into the air. Jack and his family survive the “Airborne Toxic Event,” but things are not the same, particularly the strange behaviour exhibited by Babette.

White Noise Synopsis

White Noise is the latest film from writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, Marriage Story), based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo. The film stars Adam Driver as Jack Gladney, a college professor specializing in the study of Adolf Hitler. Aside from socializing with his colleague Murray Siskind () and going with his wife Babette to the local A&P Supermarket, Jack's life is pretty uneventful. However, when Babette's daughter Denise (Raffey Cassidy) notices her mother has been taking an unknown drug, it affects the trust and openness Babette shares with Jack, which is exasperated by the arrival of the “Airborne Toxic Event.”

My Thoughts on White Noise

White Noise is quite different than the dramas Noah Baumbach is typically known for, with the film having some thriller and horror elements. The plot of White Noise is divided into three chapters, which portray events before, during, and after the “Airborne Toxic Event.” Despite being based on a novel written in the 1980s, the “Airborne Toxic Event” of White Noise can be seen as an allegory for the fear and panic felt during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the “Airborne Toxic Event” ends up being somewhat of a MacGuffin for a film that ends up being more philosophical than expected.

White Noise marks Noah Baumbach's fifth collaboration with Adam Driver and the fourth with his partner Greta Gerwig, the latter sporting a perm so notable that Don Cheadle's character of Murray Siskind makes a comment about it at one point. White Noise is Gerwig's first acting credit since 2018, as recent years saw her focus more on her directorial career, with films such as Lady Bird, Little Women, and the upcoming Barbie movie. The film also has a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, probably the most notable of which is actor and hip-hop star André Benjamin, who is almost a background character as one of Jack Gladney's colleagues.

It says a lot that the scene of White Noise that stands out the most comes at the end of the film, in the form of the entire cast doing a synchronized dance in the supermarket set to the song “new body rhumba” BY LCD Soundsystem. This scene is way more engaging than the entire film that came before it. That's not to say that White Noise isn't a film that's worth seeing. It just ends up not being what I expect when I see a Noah Baumbach film, particularly when it becomes a bit too philosophical in the final act.

Trailer for White Noise

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.