‘White Noise’ examines modern dread

“White Noise” is a dark comedy with a black cloud hovering overhead. Frankly this latest film from Noah Baumbach is a mind rush.

There are a lot of films with the title “White Noise.” One from 2005 starring Michael Keaton investigates the strange noises of ghosts heard in the ambient layer of a tape recording. The current “White Noise” from writer/director Baumbach is the only one with this title that was based on the 1985 book by Don DeLillo.

“White Noise” easily fits with other films of an anarchic nature from the late-60s. That’s the vibe Baumbach gives off.

A typical nuclear family unit flees their suburban safe space when a black cloud of toxic fumes disperses over their neighborhood. Only this is not your usual family of six, consisting of four kids, and two adults weeded to each other on their mutual fourth marriage.

Greta Gerwig still looks like Great Gerwig only she’s got Bernadette Peter’s hair and a soccer mom personality. And chameleon Adam Driver looks nothing like Adam Driver. He constantly seems to morph between Jemaine Clement and a tall Fred Armisen.  Driver teaches Hitler studies at the local College on the Hill.

In the mad rush to evacuate the city the family encounters multiple car wrecks. Such auto carnage was earlier examined during an opening archival montage. It’s like George Romero’s “The Crazies” only the biggest danger doesn’t come from infected mutants so much as Driver driving his escape station wagon into a river.

This is a movie where the parents should take the kid’s advice.

Nice bright color schemes dominate and while the main set piece seems to be the armageddon highway during the evacuation it’s really a grocery store set that gets to the heart of “White Noise’s” phenomenological manner. One lone aisle contains only white packaging with generic black titles.

Someone called “White Noise” a black comedy but that’s not correct. It’s not so much about death as it is about existential dread.

Specifically, Baumbach, just as he used the style of Leos Carax in “Francis Ha,” directly channels the energy of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” for the highway sequences and Godard’s “Tout va Bien” for the grocery store sequence. 

In Baumbach’s hands this referential salute adds depth to what is already a sophisticated portrait of a society on the brink of collapse.

“White Noise” is playing in select theaters and premieres on Netflix on December 30.

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