Movies

“Janet Planet” Review

Playwright Annie Baker goes from stage to screen with excellent results

(Courtesy A24)

In rural Western Massachusetts, in an early-1990s world where silence and boredom set a beautifully human pace, 11-year-old Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) calls her mother to pick her up from camp: “I’m going to kill myself,” she threatens, deadpan.

“This is a bad pattern,” single mom Janet (Julianne Nicholson, Dream Scenario) eventually responds.

The provocative thematic question is set: Does individuation equal death? In particular, what can—or even should—crack the unique dyad of the single mother with an only daughter relationship? It’s a unique connection rarely captured in art, and Janet Planet holds its magic like a precious egg for almost two hours.

Janet tries to entertain adult relationships, but tensions flare whenever those connections threaten the insular world she’s built with her child. Lacy, too, tries to push herself out of the twosome, but the familiar safety of her small family is the only home she knows. Within the bond, the expected hierarchies of parent and child roles bend and even vanish.

“Sometimes I feel like she’s watching me,” Janet confides in an adult friend—meaning even when her daughter isn’t actually there. The truth seems to be that they’re watching each other with an intensity and psychic attachment perhaps impossible in larger families.

This is Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker’s cinematic debut, and her stage background at once shines and startles in the on-screen medium. The dialogue is quietly hilarious and often allowed to go on for longer than we’re used to on the big screen, but if you’re willing to sit back and remember a time when we could listen to ourselves think, the film becomes a perfect mediation on love and what it means to grow up.

9

+Universally exquisite acting and cinematography.

-If silence makes you nervous, you might need medication to get through it.

Janet Planet

Directed by Annie Baker

With Ziegler and Nicholson

Center for Contemporary Arts, Violet Crown, PG-13, 113 min.

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