Janet Planet

Janet Planet

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It feels like an emergency when the young, melancholy Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) beseeches her mother Janet (Julianne Nicholson) to come pick her up from summer camp earlier than planned. “I want to kill myself” she declares. “I said that I want to kill myself if you don’t come get me.” The following morning, Janet shows up but Lacy has already changed her tune; ‘I thought nobody liked me but I was mistaken.’ In response, her mother just states: Janet Planet ‘This is a bad pattern.’

It is a joking line which introduces us to the nature of their relationship: a daughter who cannot let go of her mother and does not understand how to do it and then the mother thinks she is not good at parenting. Should a daughter still be holding on to her mother so tightly? Is it the mother’s job to create more distance? Behind wire-framed glasses, Lacy constantly watches Janet. She never feels comfortable when sleeping without her next to her even after dark hours. That night when Janet tries to get out of bed, Lacy asks for a piece of her. Janet picks up one hair strand and gives it to the daughter who looks at it with eyes full of love.

The directorial debut of Annie Baker, “Janet Planet” bears resemblance in its minimalism and introspection with her drama writing skills. The author, who was awarded Pulitzer Prize paints this vivid image of two female characters that inhabit rural Massachusetts in 1991 amidst passing grasses and tall trees thus silently leading an existence there as these women strive hard for their own peace. Even the title “Janet Planet” emphasizes upon the fact that Lacy’s world has been built around Janet as she believes this is only way she knows how to love, get along with people or become a woman.

Working from home as an acupuncturist, Janet can use her skill to calm down the boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton), a haggard old fellow who does not speak much. Janet’s nurturing presence in his life determines their relationship, making Lacy compete for her mother’s time and affection with him. Through conversation, we are informed that Janet has a pattern of dating wrong men but it is unclear why this is so to Lacy. Initially, we see Janet as seen by her daughter in small snippets of time seen through the lens of an 11-year-old child. She acts like a mediator between Wayne and Lacy with both trying to win her over as she loves them both equally and finds herself on the crossroads of love for the two people in our lives. But much of the conflict is slight enough to go undetected by a stranger. Everything about their lives together is quiet, but the silence masks loud emotional uncertainty.

“Janet Planet” covers some months in the lives of her and Lacy while there are people who come around and leave Janet’s orbit. When not hanging out with her mom, Lacy spends her free moments either playing piano or having fun with tiny stage full of little figurines on it. The fact that Lacy doesn’t have any friends remains “a complete mystery” to herself though. However, from outside it looks too obvious – she just loves her mother too much to let anyone else help into her life as well. While there are moments when other children bond with each other – particularly during those spent together with Sequoia, Wayne’s daughter – mostly, Lacy prefers being around adults including the mother who encourage precocity.

The most dramatic part involves a scene where Janet watches an outdoor theatrical production along with Lacey which features elaborate costumes and poetic dialogue.” Up till now’,” said Kellerman,’ “we’ve been at chest level’. After breaking up with Wayne, Janet’s free. With full beauty of the surrounding brought to life, for a while, Janet and Lacy are temporarily removed from their quiet often frustrating existence into a magical place of endless possibilities. This moment is the formula for all that happens in their lives – Janet goes from one boyfriend to another while Lacy looks on during some occasional interludes where they have time alone to themselves.

Single mother-themed films flood the market, but what makes “Janet Planet” special is how it represents a young girl’s perspective on her mother and their relationship as she grows up. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Janet and her best friend Regina (Sophie Okonedo) get high and monologue about their childhoods through to adolescence. Regina tells of difficult family background and an anonymous letter sent to her father that made her trajectory in life change. Janet talks about “the Holocaust survivor father, angry mother” and the pet dove they got for her when she was a child after begging them for it.

It’s an intimate funny moment between two friends who have not seen each other for a long time, but then things turn over. After all this, Janet began talking about what she chose as well as feeling like she was being judged by everyone else including herself due to the mistakes that were made along the way. Regina responds by telling her friend not to deceive herself or justify bad choices in romance or life. It is later revealed that Lacy has been sitting there silently throughout this exchange while listening to them talk like adults indirectly discussing things about her own life on earth which is quite important considering that Lacy is just a little girl here.I mean,she is only young.

Nicholson and Ziegler are simply sublime together on screen; both give performances filled with joy, sorrow, introspection, sympathy. We feel privileged to go through the journey with them as part of an audience. Until recently women-girls realistic bonding had mostly been confined to television where even such close friendships were much more frequent than men-women relationships in human lives.It seems like we spend so much time with this tiny family over a season yet it still feels like far too short a time period at all.

The world Baker creates for these characters – rich, warm and beautiful- simply takes one breath away. By the time character actor Elias Koteas arrives as Avi (another potential lover for Janet), the film is already winding down toward its poetic conclusion. It’s painful to see our time with Janet and Lacy come to an end. But of course, there will always be a chance to revisit Janet Planet again.

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