Review: White Noise

Score: B+

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Jodie Turner-Smith

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rated: R

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.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.