A little insight into the review process: Typically, we critics get to see a movie a few days before a film's wide release. Sometimes, we get longer than that. Rarely do we have a chance to take a second look before writing. Usually that's fine with me, as I've formulated the thoughts in my head by the next day. But it's been a long time since I've needed a repeat viewing to solidify my opinion like I did with White Noise.
When I first saw it back in November, I marveled at Adam Driver's performance, reveled in the dialogue scenes that felt like sword fights, and appreciated how wonderfully weird it was. But I wasn't sure it held together. Now I know that in spite of a messy third act, it's an impressive accomplishment unlike anything I've seen this year.
Based on Don DeLillo's satirical novel of '80s consumerism, it's long been branded "unfilmable." But Noah Baumbach rises to the challenge, taking another leap as a filmmaker. He stages industrial accidents, near-death experiences and verbal battles of will with panache. But his writing – usually his strongest asset – doesn't always shine. The elliptical conversations can grow a little tiring, and a noir-ish climax in which words literally become weapons doesn't quite work.
Yet even when the film lunges from knowing academic satire to Spielbergian family action to dark marital drama – with a brief detour through National Lampoon's Vacation – it's never less than compelling. It's a work so distinctly strange yet hopeful that I was compelled even when I was confused.
It's also an embarrassment of riches. The vibrant production design and appropriately hideous costumes are note-perfect for the mid-80s. It doesn't go overboard with the neon colors or leg warmers. The music too, as Jack would say, is "first-rate." This is Danny Elfman's best score in a long time, and LCD Soundsystem's end credits song is marvelous, as is the whole sequence over which it plays.
White Noise will probably be forgotten in the short term, but history will look kindly on a swing this big.