Noah Baumbach takes on Don DeLillo’s darkly comic existential novel White Noise, but the film isn't an exercise in laughing at humanity. Baumbach and his cast, who include Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver, are laughing with it
Many films attempt to answer one of the biggest, most existential questions we face: how on earth is there so much to look at in a supermarket? Aisles and aisles of dish sponges, cereals, juices, people pushing shopping carts, their hair – why is their hair so great? What are they thinking about? Do they know it’s all ending? Do they contemplate their mortality, like actually? Stare it in the face, not just shelve it for later? In the supermarket, does everyone think about dying?
Perhaps only Noah Baumbach’s White Noise has managed to ask that question with such honest attunement to the impossibility of comprehending our everyday existence, especially when one look out the window reminds us that catastrophe, both personal and planetary, is hurtling towards us on an uncontrollable gust of wind. Starring Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver (who's in lovable mode) as a charmingly odd and devoted couple (doing a 180 from Baumbach’s Marriage Story to make the case that marriage, actually, can be pretty sweet), this tiny-apocalypse tale sees Baumbach at his most joyously unfettered.
What begins as a comedy about an endearingly weird family is allowed to snowball into something exhilaratingly untethered from narrative expectation; after all, as Jack (Driver), a lecturer at a liberal arts university, says to his students, “all plots move deathward”. Every stretch of time brings us closer to death, this film included, but White Noise tunes out static to land on the rare instance where existential absurdity doesn’t feel like an exercise in laughing at humanity, but with it.
White Noise was the opening film at Venice Film Festival; it screens at selected UK cinemas from 9 Dec, streaming on Netflix from 30 Dec