Movie Reviews

Janet Planet Review: Tranquil Drama Contemplates The Idea That We'll Never Fully Know Ourselves

Summary

  • Lacy’s summer is disrupted by her mother Janet, setting off a series of events full of quiet humor and contemplation.
  • Janet and Lacy’s relationship is at the heart of “Janet Planet” – a serene drama that transcends universal themes of family.
  • Through subtle moments and interactions, the film explores the complexity of motherhood and the hidden frequencies between Janet and Lacy.



Nestled somewhere between the rocky coasts of New England and the rolling mountains of the Berkshires lives Janet (Julianne Nicholson), an unassuming hippie-adjacent acupuncturist who lives with her 11-year-old daughter Lacy (Zoe Ziegler). It’s the summer of 1991 and Lacy has been sent off to camp, but not for long. At the start of the film, Lacy calls her mother and tells her that she’ll kill herself if she isn’t picked up from camp. When Janet arrives and all of Lacy’s bunkmates are sad to see her go, Lacy has second thoughts — “I didn’t know they liked me.” It’s too late, though.

Janet Planet (2024)

Director
Annie Baker

Release Date
June 28, 2024

Writers
Annie Baker

Cast
Zoe Ziegler , Luke Philip Bosco , June Walker Grossman , Abby Harri , Julianne Nicholson , Will Patton , Edie Moon Kearns , Mary Shultz

Runtime
113 Minutes


Lacy has already popped Janet’s bucolic summer bubble and her boyfriend, clearly agitated, is waiting in the car. Janet Planet is full of these quietly funny moments. It’s a contemplative film, one that uses the leisure of summer as a pacesetter for a tranquil drama about the relationship between a mother and daughter and how, even in middle-age and pre-teen-hood, both can learn from the other.

Written and directed by Annie Baker, Janet Planet is the feature debut from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in Massachusetts. Baker’s familiarity with the area gives Janet Planet a distinct sense of place and Baker an assured way with the camera, but there’s also a universality to it and to the film’s central pair that helps it transcend to something even more affecting.


Janet & Lacy Are A Perfect Pair In Janet Planet

Zoe Ziegler & Julianne Nicholson both give stunning performances


Janet is a hard woman to pin down — at times ethereal and flighty, at others grounded and almost too aware, she’s settled into her ways even as restlessness rears its head. Through a revolving cast of characters, we see her juxtaposed against all types of people. There’s her boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton), a gruff man who walks around Janet’s wood-paneled home with a sense of entitlement and a lack of care for Lacy.

Through observing Janet and the various guests that make their way into their lives, Lacy only becomes more attuned to the hidden frequencies of the world.


Janet’s nurturing instincts kick in with Wayne, and she takes care of him as he suffers from migraines, telling Lacy to stay out of her darkened bedroom and performing acupuncture on him to relieve some of the pain. Another friend, Regina, comes to stay with Janet and Lacy for a bit after they reconnect at a local performance. Regina is a picture of who Janet could’ve been, perhaps if Lacy weren’t in her life. It’s a mirror that Janet seems reluctant to stare at for long and, despite it being pleasant having more female energy around the house, Regina also ends up leaving.

Lacy leaning against a car on the side of a store with a mural painted on it in Janet Planet
Zoe Ziegler in Janet Planet. 


Lacy is the only constant in Janet’s life, the center of her universe. As Lacy, Ziegler gives a stunning performance — her eyes are full of curiosity even when boredom creeps in, as is prone to happen in the thick heat of summer. The debut actor is unassumingly hilarious, moving through her environment rather than tip-toeing around it. She gives Lacy a sense of precociousness that avoids that haughtiness of know-it-all children, but it’s her curiosity that drives her. Through observing Janet and the various guests that come and go, Lacy only becomes more attuned to the hidden frequencies of the world.

One of those hidden frequencies — and the most prominent — is the signal that flows between Janet and Lacy. Like the title suggests, Janet is her own world and everything in the film revolves around her. But when it comes to Lacy, it’s hard to tell who is revolving around whom, whose gravitational pull is keeping them both in a steady orbit. Sometimes Lacy acts beyond her age, startling Janet. When she looks closer at her daughter, though, it seems that a sense of understanding settles over her.


Janet Planet Is A Serene Debut From Annie Baker

There’s just a touch of melancholy under the surface

Janet worries like any mother, especially a mother whose child is as peculiar as Lacy, but it’s somehow Lacy who provides the stabilizing force to this worry. It’s clear that Janet has cultivated a life full of intention despite shades of indecision. Maybe it’s the fear that this tendency towards indecision and isolation will rub off on Lacy that keeps Janet so guarded, or maybe it’s some unseen force that lies behind Baker’s cinematic language. It’s little mysteries like this that allow the characters in Janet Planet to feel fully realized. These interior lives we don’t have access to are as rich as what we see onscreen.


Perhaps it’s the idea that, try as we might, we’ll never fully know ourselves. The people around us see things in us that we’ve never thought of; to be seen in that way is its own kind of intimacy. Janet Planet ends with Lacy observing her mother from a distance, her eyes following her around the room. Janet’s frankness with Lacy allows her daughter to see her in a way that pushes Lacy to look inward.

Still, our sense of self is but one facet of our personalities — how we’re juxtaposed against others is where we can find more answers. In that way, Janet and Lacy are perfect for each other, teaching each other things that somehow already feel known.

Janet Planet is in limited theaters June 21, and will expand to theaters nationwide on June 28. The film is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some drug use and thematic elements.


Janet Planet (2023) - Poster

Janet Planet follows 11-year-old Lacy during the summer of 1991 in rural Western Massachusetts. She spends her days immersed in her imagination and the attention of her mother, Janet. As the summer progresses, three visitors enter their lives, all enchanted by Janet’s charismatic presence.

Pros

  • Julianne Nicholson and Zoe Ziegler give stunning performances in Janet Planet.
  • Debut director Annie Baker gives the film a distinct sense of place that’s searingly intimate.
  • The mother-daughter relationship between Janet and Lacy reveals something deeper about human connection.

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