in Janet PlanetSilence is everything. Playwright Annie Baker’s debut flourishes in the pauses between words, sometimes playing out entire scenes accompanied only by ambient noise.

This focus on silence is not surprising given Becker’s previous works. Catch any of her plays, from the Pulitzer Prize winner Flake to AliensYou’ll find precisely written pauses, down to how long they should last. However, these pauses are by no means dead space; They are intentional opportunities for characters to fully inhabit their worlds, think their thoughts and go about their daily actions. It’s just one of the many ways Baker meticulously captures how people talk and interact with each other — an ability she carries over from stage to screen. Janet Planet.

What is it Janet Planet on?

Janet Planet He introduces us to Lacey (Zoe Ziegler), a sixth-grader, and her mother, Janet (Julianne Nicholson). The two are practically inseparable, mostly through Lacey’s act. At summer camp, she threatens to kill herself unless Janet takes her. Upon returning home, Lacey asks Janet to sleep in her bed with her, then asks to keep “a little piece” of her mother when Janet tries to return to her own room. (Hands Janet a lock of her hair.)

When she can’t spend with Janet, such as when Janet sees acupuncture clients, Lacey keeps herself occupied with piano lessons and takes care of the dioramas she has made in her room. She also serves as a quiet observer of her mother’s life, watching Janet connect with romantic interests and friends despite not fully understanding the ins and outs of adulthood herself.

Among the characters who enter Janet and Lacey’s lives are Janet’s boyfriend, Wayne (Will Patton); her old friend Regina (Sophie Okonedo), who has just left a group of actors and farmers that may or may not be a religious sect; And Avi (Elias Koteas), the leader of the aforementioned municipality who is in love with Janet. Janet Planet She announces the arrival (and departure) of these characters with matter-of-fact title cards that give the film a satirical sense of structure and reflect how Lacey marks time based on her mother’s own relationships.

The strength of each “section” of Janet Planet Varies, with my personal favorite being the one that focuses on Regina. Instead of focusing on romantic relationships, this part of the film delves into female friendship. Nicholson and Okonedo have a great relationship as they talk about their past mistakes and what’s happened in their lives since they last spoke. Additionally, Lacy gets a chance to interact with Regina more than she does with Wayne or Avi, revealing some of her strong opinions and thoughts about her mother that she can’t share with her directly.

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Otherwise, Lacey remains an active participant as much as a spectator throughout, something Baker demonstrates through long, static shots of other characters from Lacey’s point of view and through her characteristic silences. Here, Lacey greets people around her, examining them before asking the occasional pointed question. Elsewhere, Baker shows people talking but removes the audio of their dialogue, leaving us to infer their words from Lacey’s facial expressions. Newcomer Ziegler’s reactions are revelatory in their own right, as is her entire performance, complementing Baker’s strong but quietly sparse directorial vision. The film occasionally switches to Janet’s point of view, but it is certainly at its strongest and most developed as we see the world through Lacey’s curious, if sometimes bewildered, eyes.

Janet Planet It is a poignant snapshot of the relationship between mother and daughter.

Wayne, Regina, and Avi may come and go, but heart Janet Planet It is undoubtedly the relationship between Janet and Lacey. There’s an easy intimacy here, seen in scenes where Janet combs Lacey’s hair or takes care of her when she’s sick. But there is also tension: Lacey is attached to Janet to the point of codependency, while Janet sometimes seems stifled by Lacey’s constant closeness, even though she loves her daughter.

Wayne, Regina and Avi may come and go, but the heart of “Janet’s Planet” is undoubtedly the relationship between Janet and Lacey.

These are feelings that Janet can’t quite express to Lacey, and she’s not the only one. One night, as the two were lying in bed together, Lacey said to Janet: “Every moment of my life is hell.” Clearly, these are the last words Janet wants to hear from her daughter — especially since the moment Lacey speaks is one of not-so-hellish calm. However, Janet seems to find some truth in these words as well, as she admits that she doesn’t feel happy either, and that her ability to make men fall in love with her sometimes scares her.

Janet’s confession is a rare example of her truly letting Lacey in. In other moments, she keeps Lacey at bay, becoming a somewhat unknown figure to the daughter who only wants to understand her. Nicholson naturally immerses herself in the sometimes bewildering version of Janet that Lacey sees, but she also imbues Janet with enough warmth, weariness, and desire that it’s clear we’re watching a well-rounded person, not just the idea of ​​a socially permeated mother. .

in many ways, Janet Planet At its core, the relationship between mother and daughter is reminiscent of another, equally startling, introspective beginning: Charlotte Wells After the sun. Both films focus on lonely children desperately trying to understand their mysterious parents, and both carry a sense of aching nostalgia that comes with a formative summer vacation.

But while Welles’ film weaves together the characters’ pasts and futures, Baker’s film anchors itself firmly in their present. Every line and every beat of Ziegler and Nicholson’s performances — and yes, every silence — contributes to this picture based entirely on the lives of Janet and Lacey. It’s a film that washes over you with a flurry of quiet, subtle detail, making for an absolutely stunning debut.

Janet Planet It opens in New York theaters on June 21, 2024, and opens nationwide on June 28.

Updated: June 20, 2024, 5:22 PM EST Janet Planet was reviewed outside the New York Film Festival in this article published in October 2023. The review has been updated to include information about its theatrical release.

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