With projects like David Fincher’s The Killer & George C. Wolfe’s Rustin being pushed to 2023, many awards season pundits put Netflix’s strongest chances for Best Picture at the Oscars with Noah Baumbach’s latest, White Noise, and for good reason.
Baumbach’s last film, the critically acclaimed divorce drama Marriage Story, was nominated for Best Picture in 2020 before the world shut down. It gave Netflix their first acting Oscar with Laura Dern’s supporting performance. It also gave us one of the best “memed” movies of that year, complete with arguing velociraptors. Google if unfamiliar.
So, with Baumbach’s indie film god reputation and growing respect in awards circles, clearly, Netflix would have another dog in the hunt this year.
And then you heard the words “professor of Hitler studies” and thought you might want to slow down.
Based on the U.S. National Book Award winning novel of the same name from Don DeLillo, the plot of White Noise can sound quite daunting to the average filmgoer. Following a year in the life of a death-obsessed Hitler Studies professor and his family as they traverse through the challenges of a chemical spill turned airborne toxic event, an illegal prescription drug trial, & a seedy motel confrontation at gunpoint.
It sounds pretty unadaptable when you say it like that, but what Baumbach creates is a relentless & rich tapestry of obsessions, distractions, and philosophies, all aimed at the idea of avoiding the inevitable conclusion of our lives: consumerism, religion, celebrity worship, drug abuse.
It’s all a part of avoiding what confronts us all the time. Some more than others, but probably none more than Jack (Adam Driver) & Babette (Greta Gerwig) who take us on a rollercoaster ride that devolves in a way only akin to the dark comedies of Joel & Ethan Coen.
In fact, some of the best things about this film is how Baumbach utilizes his increased budget this time around to create a second act that has action stunts and set pieces that feel more early Spielberg than Baumbach’s previous work. The influences don’t stop there either as we get highly intellectual, rapid-fire cross-talking dialogue that makes you feel like you’re in a Robert Altman film and moments of heightened reality where characters talk in a manner not heard in real life like you’re in a David Lynch film.
The only disappointment for me, and perhaps Netflix, is that the film will most likely prove too much for awards love this time around.
In fact, White Noise might become an awards season oddity onto itself. Very rarely do you hear the combination of a film that OPENS the Venice Film Festival AND the New York Film Festival and might not have one nomination for the Oscars.
Even though the performances are quite strong and the degree of difficulty in adapting DeLillo’s novel is even stronger, the best chance for the film during awards season might be with LCD Soundsystem.
Yes. That LCD Soundsystem.
During the final moments of the film into the end credits, Baumbach sticks the landing with one of the most engrossing & straight up fun sequences as a grocery store turns into a dance party with the punctuation mark being the hypnotically delightful earworm “New Body Rhumba” by, you guessed it, LCD Soundsystem.
If you love “Daft Punk Playing at My House”, wait until you get LCD playing on aisle 12.
The song has already been nominated for Best Song at the upcoming Critics Choice Awards and this critic can hope for the same nomination (and win) come Oscar Sunday.
Overall, Baumbach stretches everything he could possibly imagine doing in a film and takes the biggest swing of his career with this one. Many will feel that the movie is simply too much to take in on first viewing, but I feel like once you see past the “noise” that this film presents in bunches, you see it for the bold and sometimes ridiculous meditations & darkly comedic moments that make the movie persistently entertaining.
Watch White Noise If You Like
- Marriage Story
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
- Kicking & Screaming (1995)
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
MVP of White Noise
Adam Driver as Jack Gladney.
Tasked with playing a death-obsessed Hitler Studies professor who doesn’t really know how to speak German can sound like a hard pass to most actors, but not Adam Driver.
Constantly pushing himself to do fresh, exciting, & borderline impossible roles, Driver moves closer to the brink with Gladney’s dizzyingly intellectual yet chronically needy character that is at the center of almost every frame.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?
While not for everyone and perhaps not even for the Academy this time around, White Noise will still leave Baumbach & DeLillo fans with a sly, knowing smile on their face.