The 2022 Venice Film Festival got off to a quieter start on Wednesday night with the premiere of “White Noise.” Noah Baumbach’s Netflix-backed adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel, which stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, was met with a tepid 150-second standing ovation. That ranks as a short smattering of applause on the Lido, where many films enjoy a much more enthusiastic and sustained reception.
“White Noise” is set in the ’80s and features an array of Easter Eggs of movies of the era, including everything from “Back to the Future” to “ET” Some of these references may have flown over the head of the Venice crowd . The film, which was met with mixed reviews, is a twisty, talky family drama about the despair of a married couple facing their own mortality.
It follows Jack (played by Driver), a professor who made a name for himself by teaching Hitler studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America. Along with Jack’s fourth wife Babette (portrayed by Gerwig) and their kids, the group attempts to navigate the usual rocky passages of family life. But their domestic issues are overshadowed and disrupted when an airborne toxic event forces them to face the threat of death together.
Reviews for “White Noise” out of Venice were divided, with Variety’s Owen Gleiberman writes, “A meticulously reverent adaptation of Don DeLillo’s acerbic domestic academic satirical dystopian novel of American middle-class life in the 1980s, it’s the kind of madly audacious, swing-for-the-fences literary-event movie that a gifted director makes when he’s coming off a celebrated success and feeling his power in the industry, wanting to elevate his artistry to the next level.”
Despite the mediocre reviews for the opening night film, the 79th edition of Venice kicked off in style. The Sala Grande Theatre, which has done half-capacity seating for the last two years due to a pandemic that simply refuses to fade to black, once again played host to a packed crowd. Hillary Clinton, injecting some Beltway sizzle into the A-list affair, walked the opening night carpet along with Venice jury president Julianne Moore and “Bridgerton” star Rege-Jean Page. But it wasn’t all glitz. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine also appeared via a video segment and pleaded for the global film community to rally to the country’s cause as its war against Russia continues (he made a similar appeal at Cannes).
“White Noise” marks the second consecutive film Baumbach has debuted at the Venice Film Festival following 2019’s “Marriage Story,” which also starred Driver in a leading role. Baumbach may have been hoping to recapture the magic. Three years ago, Driver and co-star Scarlett Johansson became instant Oscar contenders for “Marriage Story” after it earned acclaim out of Venice. Netflix was also behind the film, which went on to score six Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. It earned a best supporting actress prize for Laura Dern.
“It is a truly wonderful thing to return to the Venice Film Festival, and an incredible honor to have ‘White Noise’ play as the opening night film,” Baumbach said in a statement before the festival kicked off. ”This is a place that loves cinema so much, and it’s a thrill and a privilege to join the amazing films and filmmakers that have premiered here.”
Netflix has several movies debuting at Venice in addition to “White Noise.” The streamer’s other debuts include Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Bardo” and Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde.” All three films are competing for the Golden Lion.
“White Noise” will next open the New York Film Festival in September. Netflix will release the drama in theaters Nov. 25 before its streaming release on Dec. 30.