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  • Christopher McHale

'White Noise' Review

Noah Baumbach unleashes our confused over-thinking mind on the unsuspecting world.



‘White Noise’ is brilliant.


Don Dellio’s 1985 postmodern novel was called “unadaptable.”


Why?


Because the novel shapeshifts like a chameleon taped to a kladiscope.


Life, my friend, is dominated by the cereal aisle and TV on one side, and scary mortality on the other. Good luck making sense of it.


The movie has that same hyper-active shape shifting rapid fire non sequitur craziness. Charlie Parker playing Looney Tunes. Alan Ginsberg playing Scrabble.


Part Woody Allen (irksome) part Chevy Chase (funny) part Wes Anderson (symmetry color whackos), part Hitchcock (suspense music) with a powerful dose of Speilburg (alien invasion).


How does this work in a film?


Well, it’s a glorious hot mess, tbh. If your brain is not wide-open and ready for this madness, forget it. It won’t work for you.


But if you love this book (I do) and these lines (lots lifted straight from page to script), and these incredible characters and scenes and riffs, this film totally gets into your head. Like being alone on a 3D IMAX carousel. It twists your mind as you reach for illusions of light floating past your eyes.


“Family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation.”

Adam Driver takes this on like he takes everything on, no holds barred, Greta Gerwig is so beautifully neurotic, Don Cheadle a perfect counterpoint parachuting in to guide the wild, crooked insight.


“They came to be a crowd.”

What is this story?


“Maybe you can kill death.”

And I think they do.


Somehow we work our way from Hitler as Elvis to an A&P (greatest brand placement in film history) as “a waiting place to recharge us spiritually.”


Brands and product lists bound across the screen just like they do in the novel. We tumble down (or is that up) an Escher staircase of one lifestyle bleeding into another, one story stamping out another and in the middle a bunch of people running around saying wtf.


I wonder what’s out there, Driver asks.


Life is out there. What a ride.


The novel lurches forward. So does the movie.


Movies and TV saturated in edited points create filters of experience. You see your life in these drama matrixes.


So the Toxic Cloud becomes a Speilburg type experience. Escaping from the refugee camp in your station wagon turns into a Chevy Chase movie. Sneaking around the dark motel pitches you into Hitchcock.


I think Baumbach’s thought long and hard how to get this herky-jerky novel style onto film. He found his answer in the meta beats of filmic language.


I know I’ve been trained by a lifetime of movies to sometimes see life beats this way.


Our saturated brains hear the white noise of our cultural shortwave.


Life spins across the dial.


The frightening airborne toxic disaster ends abruptly and we jump right back into fluorescent reality, Murray and Jack strolling through the A&P.


Grocery shopping will never be the same for me.


Reality — even a toxic airborne cloud reality or a COVID reality — can’t impinge too long on the white noise of our lives.


Hear that white noise in the background? No matter the beats, the colors, the ideas, the theories, the conceits, the loves, the defeats, the threats, the egos, the fears, the white noise is always there.


It’s all white noise in the end. You’ve seen this movie before. Deja vu.


Stay for the credits. They rock.


PS NETFLIX thank you a zillion times over for investing in movies like this. #whitenoise #netflix

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