Netflix's White Noise is the biggest new movie of the week — watch or skip?

L to R) Sam Nivola as Heinrich, Adam Driver as Jack, May Nivola as Steffie, Greta Gerwig as Babette and Raffey Cassidy as Denise in White Noise.
(Image credit: Wilson Webb/Netflix)

Netflix is ending the year in grand fashion, with a big swing called White Noise (arriving Friday, Dec. 30). It's a big-budget film from low-budget powerhouse Noah Baumbach, and stars Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha). And it's extremely ambitious.

An adaptation of Don DeLillo's seminal postmodern novel of the same name, White Noise comes with the baggage of being previously deemed 'impossible.' But the combined forces of Baumbach, Driver and Gerwig — brought together by a big Netflix budget — is promising nontheless.

White Noise even features a new song by LCD Soundsystem, the reclusive band that famously retired with a big Madison Square Garden sendoff. It even spent a brief amount of time in theaters so it could be considered for awards.

But none of the above answers the question you're asking. So let's find out if you should watch Netflix's White Noise. Because you can always go watch Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which we can confirm is one of the best Netflix movies.

What is White Noise all about?

DeLillo's White Noise is perceived to be difficult to adapt because the novel's peculiar postmodern nature. For example, the first section of the book kinda does nothing with the plot. It just slowly sets the Gladney family's story up, with a bit of satire on the side.

But since this isn't a Netflix series, we don't expect much in the way of slowness. Instead, we expect to meet Jack Gladney and his family and quickly learn that he's an academic leader in the field of Hitler studies. Babette (Gerwig) is his fourth wife, and the film will see them raising four children. Two are from his previous marriages, one is from hers and the fourth is a child that they actually had together. Once that's all established, the Airborne Toxic Event hits.

Caused by a train accident that leads to a cloud of chemical waste to loom ominously overhead, the ATE forces an evacuation of the town that the Gladneys live in. One family member (we won't spoil who) is exposed to the cloud, and then a quarantine is necessary.

All the while, Jack's colleague Murray (Don Cheadle), a professor trying to make "Elvis studies" a thing, is trying to help him out, but his advice doesn't seem to be reducing the chaos. 

In a word, White Noise is surreal.

White Noise reviews: What the critics say

At the time of writing this story, White Noise has amassed a 62% score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab). That score suggests that White Noise isn't going to get universal praise from audiences, but it's still good.

In terms of what critics praise, Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times (opens in new tab) writes that "Driver and Gerwig are wondrous together, and the young actors playing their children doing a marvelous job of helping to create an authentic, whip-smart version of The Brady Bunch."

Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com (opens in new tab) also praises Driver, writing that he is "once again, excellent here, crafting a performance that is often very funny without relying on broad character beats." He also declares Danny Elfman's score to be "one of the best of the year, connecting the three tonally different sections."

(L-R) Greta Gerwig (Babette), May Nivola (Steffie), Adam Driver (Jack), Samuel Nivola (Heinrich) and Raffey Cassidy (Denise) in White Noise

(Image credit: Wilson Webb/Netflix)

As for the negative reviews, Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle (opens in new tab) writes "Baumbach needed to capture the menace behind DeLillo’s absurdity, and maybe he tried."

The New York Times (opens in new tab)' A.O. Scott writes "But there is something detached about the film, a succession of moods and notions that are often quite interesting but that never entirely cohere."

At The Ringer (opens in new tab), Adam Nayman writes that "Noah Baumbach’s attempt for Netflix does nothing to change" White Noise's reputation for being "impossible to adapt." Most damningly, though, he declares that "White Noise is too much without being enough."

Should you stream White Noise on Netflix?

Fans of the original novel will probably be curious enough to hit 'play' on Netflix's White Noise, but newbies may be a little more circumspect. Fans of the starring duo, though, should probably watch White Noise. Everything we've seen suggests that White Noise gives Driver and Gerwig plenty of material to work with.

That said, if you're less into postmodern fiction than you are noirs and page-turners, we're less sure. White Noise definitely seems prone to over-do it. 

Also, all reports suggest there's a big musical number at the end. No, the stars themselves don't sing. But we do imagine that this knowledge could help you figure out if this film is your thing or not. If you can see yourself enjoying a surreal moment that clearly breaks the fourth wall? Then you should definitely watch White Noise.

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.