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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Noah Baumbach
prd Noah Baumbach, David Heyman, Uri Singer
with Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, Andre Benjamin, Sam Gold, Carlos Jacott, Lars Eidinger, Barbara Sukowa
release US 25.Nov.22,
22/US Netflix 2h16
Is it streaming?
Set in a stylised version of middle America, Noah Baumbach's adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel is an offbeat comedy-drama rippling with big ideas. The premise is laced with irony, mixing goofy humour with dark themes and apocalyptic overtones. And Baumbach also stirs in witty movie references. Oddly, the deeper issues are weakened by the film's epic length, as scenes continually spin off in new directions that feel increasingly overwrought.
In the mid-1980s, university professor Jack (Driver) has a boisterous life with his wife Babette (Gerwig) and their blended family of four children from three previous marriages each. A top Hitler scholar, Jack maintains lively banter with his pop-culture colleague Murray (Cheadle) and the other professors. When a black cloud of toxic fumes threatens the town, residents are evacuated for several days. Back home, Jack worries about the effects of the chemicals, and he also becomes obsessed with solving an equally pressing problem in his marriage. Although his course of action seems ill-advised at best.
Potential hazards surround this family. Teen daughter Denise (Cassidy) is worried about the perils lurking in processed food, while teen son Heinrich (Sam Nivola) becomes an expert on toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, Jack becomes entangled in both his own medical issues and the fact that Babette seems to be taking some sort of mood-altering drug. All of these things are mysteries, without clear answers, so digging into them sends the characters down various rabbit holes.
Performances are heightened to match the film's colourful aesthetic, and the actors are strong enough to add real-life undercurrents and resonant emotions even in the more absurd moments. Driver is particularly good as a smart man who uses his brain to avoid worrying about his life, even as major things are beginning to creep up on him. As his haunted wife, Gerwig comes into her own in the film's second half, nicely balancing the more comical mayhem with more intense emotionality. The entire cast is adept at bridging this sometimes awkward mix.
As the story goes along, the film peppers meaningful thoughts into a script that seems to celebrate the human state of panic. Indeed, someone notes that whatever relaxes you is dangerous. There's also an intriguing examination of the dangers of crowd adulation in a lecture battle that compares Hitler and Elvis, crosscut with an explosive blockbuster-style crash sequence. In the end, the focal point seems to be about how we grapple with our mortality on our own, but everyone is in the same boat.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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