Noah Baumbach is the least likely director to helm a disaster flick, so it’s a good thing that White Noise, a quote-unquote disaster film (am I allowed to write that or should I just have used quotation marks?) is a quirky, weird drama-comedy version od a disaster flick. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a disaster itself.
White Noise is about an obnoxious family who talk in double speak who are forced to flee their home when a train crash unleashes a weird toxic cloud with undetermined implications. But the movie isn’t really about that. Or is it?
Split into three fairly distinctive acts, White Noise, which is based on an allegedly “unfilmable” novel, would have been better served as a stageplay for weird people who like weird plays.
The first act is devoted to introducing its set of characters and exploring their reactions to a potential societal threat. It also allows you time to get used to the quirky dialogue, well scripted but certainly not for everyone. You’ll know within a few minutes whether you’ll be able to tolerate it or not.
The second act is the easiest and most consumable to follow, as the family flees and the movie feels the most like a “disaster film.” It’s here that White Noise hints at becoming something compelling and worthwhile to watch, even if the satirical undertones start to really flex.
And then the third act happens. Whatever momentum Baumbach had established careens off a metaphorical cliff, taking us down a path that has no overt connection to what happened before but that I’m sure people who love metaphors more than actual entertainment value will be swept up by whatever message this damn thing is trying to tell. I hated the third act; it’s aimless, weird, and not at all satisfying.
All that said, White Noise will appeal to those who appreciate the unconventional. Adam Driver gives a strong if understated performance as a frumpy professor and father; Greta Gerwig is good as his less-than-dutiful wife. The child actors also bring the material to life in compelling fashion.
But White Noise is too fragmented and unfocused for its own good. Amusing at times but rarely funny, unconventional to a fault, and marred by a terrible third act, some may find watching actual white noise more pleasant than this disaster of a disaster flick.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.