Movie Review: ‘Janet Planet’

by | Jun 20, 2024 | Featured Post, Movie Reviews, Movies | 0 comments

Greetings again from the darkness. Mother-Daughter relationships have been the theme for many fine movies throughout various genres over the years. Some of the best that come to mind include: LADY BIRD (2017), THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017), MAMMA MIA! (2008), LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006), THE JOY LUCK CLUB (1993), TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983), MOMMIE DEAREST (1981), CARRIE (1976), and going back many years, the classic MILDRED PIERCE (1945). The common thread here is the complicated, yet unbreakable bond between mother and daughter. Writer-director Annie Baker, who won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her play “The Flick”, has managed to create a film with a mother-daughter relationship that fits right into the above list, while also bringing a unique perspective.

Eleven-year-old Lacy sneaks out of her summer camp cabin, and through the darkness makes her way to the office payphone. The first line of dialogue we hear is Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) saying, “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t come get me.” The next morning, mother Janet (Julianne Nicholson) arrives and a packed up Lacy discovers she actually had made a friend, but since it’s too late to remain at camp, she questions why mom had to bring boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton) along. “Wayne” is the first chapter of the story, but as we learn, single mom Janet has had a revolving door of lovers and friends. It’s 1991, the summer between fifth and sixth grade for Lacy, and as an outcast in her age group, she desperately wants to be close to her mom.

Their rural home is surrounded by nature, and Janet runs her acupuncture business while Lacy hikes to piano lessons … when she’s not asking if she can sleep in mom’s bed. Wayne doesn’t last long, and Chapter 2 “Regina” bounds in next, thanks to a local art colony performance that allows old friends to reconnect. Regina (Sophie Okonedo) appreciates the free room and has some nice moments with Lacy – except for the shampoo and long stints in the shared bathroom. When Regina moves on, Chapter 3’s “Avi” (Elias Koteas) begins getting close to Janet. By now we understand that everyone loves Janet, and that’s an emotional hurdle for young Lacy.

The adults are a bit tiresome, and Janet even confesses that she worries about her parenting approach. Yet, those concerns don’t impact her free-wheeling ways, and we see she’s as lonely and broken as her daughter. Lacy says, “I don’t have any friends”, and we don’t doubt it. As an outsider she’s very observant, if not a bit depressed. Julianne Nicholson is exceptional as always, and first-timer Zoe Ziegler is a rare find. We can only hope she finds her way into a Wes Anderson movie before she grows out of this stage. Cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff has a style that perfectly complements director Baker’s slow pacing and the unusual setting. As the summer turns to “The Fall”, a local square dance provides the perfect ending … and reinforces all that we’ve learned about mother and daughter. Another little gem from A24.

In select theaters on June 21, 2024 and nationwide on June 28, 2024

David Ferguson
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