Background noise (2022) review: Netflix and A24 give Noah Baumbach free rein to reflect the neurosis of the pandemic in an ambitious exercise of self-indulgence

There are books that do not admit a film adaptation that turn out to be films that manage to beat in their own way, such as ‘The process’ or ‘The naked lunch’, with variations by Orson Welles and David Cronenberg, but sometimes the adventure remains a rarity which demonstrates for the umpteenth time the reasons why both media are happily different. Here, ‘Background Noise’ (White Noise) by Don DeLillo, has been transformed for the screen by Noah Baumbach to Netflix, opening in theaters on December 9 and on the platform on December 30.

Although in this case, perhaps the anecdotal result is not so much the effect of a difficult structure or even the risky tonal changes that disconcert between different chapters, but a breadth of concepts, characters and events too vast to allow the range of eccentricities without reward. that the director spreads during the 136 minutes of footage, although The whole enterprise, for better or worse, is still quite fascinating..

The pandemic of fear of the middle class

After the critical successes of ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ (2017) and ‘Historia de un matrimonio’ ​​(Marriage Story, 2019), Baumbach shows off his mumblecore roots, after his journey through prestigious cinema, without renouncing its highest budget to date, a whopping $80 million, extending his discourse (although not much) from the lives of middle or upper class couples to American society, launching a lot of ideas about collective behavior, fascism, existentialism and consumerism. A mess.

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‘Background Noise’ begins with a series of car accidents that Murray Jay Siskind (Don Cheadle), a university professor, is projecting to his students that American society is so fascinated by violence that it has managed to turn it into an art form, perfected in the form of real punches that are beautiful in their precision. If school lessons have become a cliché that gives us clues about the central themes of the movies, here never ends without having any kind of connection– you can always make hundreds of abstract puns – with what we will come to see later.


Adam Driver he plays Jack Gladney, another professor whose area of ​​expertise is “Hitler studies.” His wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), teaches gymnastics classes for retirees and shares with her husband a deep fear of death. They spend time debating who should die first, and so the first of several chapters of the story unfolds. In the second, Jack’s existential fear takes visible form, an impending “toxic airborne event,” and in the third, Jack discovers secrets about his family that lead him down an unexpected path.

The war of a hundred genres

The recommendation not to read too much about this film could come in handy if its accumulation of unsuspected situations led to some surprise, but within the approach of uncertainty that it displays, its winding paths do not matter because to a certain extent it seems like a kind of anthology. The first part is kind of a weird suburban family movie that could sign Sam Mendesit goes on and on to introduce us to its characters, but it hasn’t just laid too many foundations for what’s to come.

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The second takes place along the lines of ‘The Incident’ (2008), a kind of apocalyptic science fiction story with the same ingredients as that one, that is, a tone between an American comedy from the 80s with an American family on vacation and the cinema. of Spielberg, but with the common point with Shyamalan of having absolutely unbearable characters, especially the one played by a Driver who begins to fill up as a muse of capricious directors. The last one, perhaps the most focused, seems like a fairly successful Coen noir of manners.

white noise

However, we arrived at that last round exhausted after some adventures in toxic clouds and the umpteenth end-of-the-world film approach of “don’t do anything” —in this case, don’t get out of the car— which shows that you have to let the guy rest. genre, for many quiet places that get blockbusters. However, the ideas of the source text, about consumerism, death, the simplification of public information, remain blurred by Baumbach’s intention to connect his story with, oh no, our old familiar covid pandemic.

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It’s never mentioned as such, but comparisons are always made to one with such timely references as indoor mask-wearing, distrust of government agencies, quarantines, supermarket panics, and all those amusing hardships that often happen. no one wants to revive it either in the form of satire or in the form of a horror film. Not just out of supreme laziness, but because half of those passages are already out of sync in time, irrelevant and old-fashioned before leaving.

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When the main conflict, much smaller and irrelevant than the ‘Background Noise’ knot, is resolved, Baumbach seems to reveal what he is doing. a reverse version of their previous marriages, more optimistic and friendly, celebrating it with a very lively and colorful supermarket dance sequence in the end credits, but which is just as whimsical and failed as an alibi for gooey surrealism as everything else, with the addition of a song that seems to repeat its final part on purpose to stretch the choreography to the maximum. A final scene that summarizes the director’s trolling towards the viewer as a general trend.


Arbitrarily elongated dialogues, the constant sensation of going towards narrative vanishing points that are never found and a carefully extravagant and calculated dispersion that show an author well aware of his prank, or else unable to find the lucidity to distill the elements that they are passionate about their mimesis with Spielberg, Lynch or Gilliam from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. A very expensive joke at the expense of a naive Netflix with the wallet ready for a hit with the desire to fish for clueless intellectualsdestined to play a game in the basement of other very expensive forgotten author cravings such as ‘I’m thinking of quitting’, ‘Mute’ or ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’, among others.

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