Noah Baumbach becomes the first brave director to adapt the Don DeLillo novel White Noise, and the results are respectable, if a little discombobulated.
For children of the ’80s, White Noise will strike some chords (Carefree Gum, New Coke, etc.); for those who didn’t grow up during the decade, DeLillo’s prose provide plenty of timeless observations. The first half of the movie, dealing with ’80s consumerism and the “airborne toxic event” that leads to Jack and Babette (Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig) evacuating their home, is quite good.
The final act drifts away from DeLillo’s novel and gets a little strange. It isn’t nearly as successful as the first half. It’s not all bad, but it detracts from what came before.
When Baumbach has the film humming along nicely, it’s propelled by Driver and Gerwig, which is no big surprise. Both have a proven track record in edgier material, and neither disappoint. Driver’s Jack is a pretentious teacher who is frustratingly dense at times, even though he’s always a caring sort; Gerwig’s Babette drifts in and out of coherence due to some mysterious untested drug clouding her judgement.
When a dark cloud of noxious chemicals threatens Jack and Babette’s hometown, the film has a nice eerie feel to it. It’s sort of like Stephen King’s The Mist meets National Lampoon’s Vacation.
The film closes with a funny supermarket dance number may have made for a better opening. It’s a good-tone setter, and it feels a little off coming at the end, after the film has taken a dark detour. Baumbach happily employs LCD Soundsystem for a new song that helps give the sequence some memorable bounce.
When it’s all over, White Noise feels like a scattershot experience—but the look of the film and the two lead performances make it worth the time.
White Noise is now playing at select theaters. It will begin streaming on Netflix on Dec. 30.