Janet Planet movie review & film summary (2024)

Annie Baker’s directorial debut “Janet Planet” is as spare and contemplative as her writing for the stage. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright paints a lush portrait of a mother and daughter living in rural Massachusetts in 1991, walking steadily through grass and tall trees, carving out a quiet life for themselves. Even the title “Janet Planet” emphasizes the way Lacy’s world is crafted in Janet’s image, as her life is the only model for love, friendship, and womanhood she’s ever known. 

Janet works from home as an acupuncturist, a vocation that allows her to soothe her boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton), a troubled older man of few words. Their relationship seems to depend on Janet being a nurturing presence in his life, pushing Lacy to compete with him for her mother’s time and affection. Through dialogue, we learn that Janet has a habit of dating men who aren’t right for her, but it’s unclear to Lacy why this is the case. At first, we see Janet as her daughter sees her, in small windows of time, filtered by her 11-year-old impressions. She, Wayne, and Lacy function like a love triangle with Janet in the middle trying to keep the peace. 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” follows a few months in the lives of Lacy and her mother, with people drifting in and out of Janet’s orbit. In the small pockets of time when Lacy isn’t with Janet, she busies herself with piano lessons and playing with her little stage of small figurines. Lacy doesn’t have any friends, a fact that is “a complete mystery” to her. But from the outside, the answer seems clear–she’s too in love with her mother to let anyone else in. While there are moments of bonding with other kids–most notably her time with Wayne’s daughter Sequoia–Lacy prefers the company of her mother and other adults who encourage her precocious nature. 

In the film’s most dynamic scene, Janet and Lacy watch a performance in the woods with elaborate costumes and poetic dialogue. Janet has broken up with Wayne and is a free agent once again. With the full beauty of their surroundings on display, Janet and Lacy are temporarily transported from their quiet, often frustrating life, to a place that is magical and full of possibility. This moment reveals the pattern of their lives–Janet goes from lover to lover while Lacy watches, with small interludes of alone time between the two where they cling together and heal.