Noah Baumbach skewers Our Fear of Death

This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 New York Film Festival.

The Pitch: by Don DeLillo White Noise is one of those “great American novels” long thought unfilmable, a sprawling, acerbic takedown of late American capitalism and its relentless need to distract from the inevitable death of the movies, culture, conversation, things. And indeed, it’s strangely fitting that the filmmaker who finally tackles it is Indie Darling Noah Baumbach himself: Like DeLillo, he’s also concerned with failures and academic failures, the breakdown of the family unit , the ways we hold. of ephemera just so we don’t destroy ourselves.

And so it is in the three-part story of the Gladney clan, a nuclear family about to go metaphorically (and in some ways literally) nuclear. There’s Jack (Adam Driver, snakey and po-faced), a “Hitler Studies professor” who doesn’t speak German but wants to make a name for himself at the Midwestern liberal arts college where he teaches. His wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig, rocking a big perm), is a crazy mother of their four children (most of them from previous marriages, since they are both divorced) and hides of secret white pills whose origins and nature are a mystery to his family.

And there are children, from the proactive, pragmatic Heinrich (Sam Nivola, Alessandro’s son; his sister May plays the younger child Steffie) to the curious Denise (Raffey Cassidy) , who both lacked their parents’ penchant for distraction and anxiety.

Like most Americans, they are a family inundated with information, much of it trivial, but welcome distractions from the ever-slippery nature of reality. Jack never feels more alive than when he engages in a “lecture duel” with fellow prof Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle) to convince their students that “Elvis is the new Hitler.”

Then, when an “airborne toxic event” looms over their neighborhood, he continues to downplay the threat until they can’t avoid evacuating, leading them into a traffic jam where they can investigate. how worried they should be by scanning the facial expressions of the people in the station wagons around them. No matter how bad things get, they can breathe a sigh of relief. After all, it didn’t happen they.

White Noise (Netflix)

There’s Always More: White Noise is at once quintessential Baumbach (the grainy film look, the familiar cast and idiosyncracies) and a considerable departure from his usual. hope The Meyerowitz Stories and Marriage Story feels like Robert Altman’s odes to naturalism, White NoiseFlights of fancy and oddball structures share DNA with Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, and even David Byrne’s winsome True Stories. The latter is especially true in its portrayal of the squeaky-clean fluorescence of the grocery store, the ultimate altar of consumption (and, therefore, immortality), capped off by a banger of a musical number in the credits, set to a new song from LCD Soundsystem.

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