A mouth-watering cast come together for Noah Baumbach’s first film since Oscar winning Marriage Story. He reunites with one of the stars from that movie, Adam Driver, in an adaptation of White Noise, the 1985 novel by Don Delillo.
Set in garish 80s vision of America, Driver plays Jack Gladney. Jack is a professor of Hitler Studies at a nearby college, and considered something of a rock star among academics. He combines this professional success with a happy home life, raising a blended family with wife Babette (Greta Gerwig). Secretly, Jack is haunted by a fear of his own mortality, something that he comes to confront when an accident causes a toxic cloud to cover his home town.
Adapted from a book that was deemed “unfilmable”, the movie evolves in a frustratingly erratic fashion. Yes, it is a lot of fun to see charismatic actors pontificate about life in very wordy scenes. An early moment where Driver and Cheadle compare factoids about Hitler and Elvis like dueling guitarists is quite something. Gerwig debating the merits of sugar free gum with her offspring is endearing.
However, it begs for something to thread it all together. The characters seem to barely notice their current predicament as they over analyse each other’;s behaviour. As the tone shifts from moment to moment, there’s a growing sense that the film isn’t quite as clever as the trillion words per minute dialogue thinks it is.
The cast devour the material, having a great time playing smart people doing smart things. Driver is the focal point and is always fun to watch, while Gerwig is just as enjoyable as his spouse who has a lot going on beneath the surface. Cheadle breezes in and out, proving the versatility of an actor who has been everything from a sensible army general to Miles Davis in his storied career.
Baumbach should be applauded for making White Noise work on screen, and even enjoyable in parts. However, this narrative experiment won’t be for everyone.