Director: Annie Baker Screenwriter: Annie Baker Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Zoe Ziegler, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Sophie Okonedo Distributor: A24 Running Time: 110 min. MPAA: PG-13

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With so many films aiming to evoke the nostalgic sensations of the 1990s, Janet Planet is so gentle and slow that it comes off as a refreshing breather. Here’s a film that doesn’t have to dice up and grill its retro setting of 1991 to an unrecognizable char. Perhaps it’s the rural Massachusetts setting or Annie Baker’s introspective direction. There’s something to this hazy summer that ends up saying a lot about childhood, sexuality, and relationships in the most meditative ways possible.

Summer goes slow for the young Lacy (Zoe Ziegler), an 11-year-old girl who mostly keeps to herself. She does her best not to get in the way of her mother, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), a hippie running a acupuncture operation out of her home, dubbing her office Janet Planet. As a single mother, Janet seeks out different individuals who come to stay at her relatively secluded home. Lacy comes to associate chapters of the summer through those that come into his mother’s orbit. This includes the abusively distant boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton), the estranged friendship with fellow hippie Regina (Sophie Okonedo), and the quietly manipulative Avi (Elias Koteas). While these people come and go, Lacy remains with a firm grasp on her mom, still desiring to sleep with her at night and share discussion among the pillows.

Throughout the summer, Lacy proceeds passively from her piano lessons to her private and wordless bedroom puppet show. There’s something to be said of this youthful boredom. From a distance, the adults only see a kid who is being quiet with occasional displays of joy. But as Lacy reveals to her mom during bedtime, every moment of her life is a living hell. Her mom can relate, feeling the frustrations of flighty relationships and uncertain perceptions. These moments of connection feel as genuine as the quiet displays of Lacy moping in the dirt or Janet getting lost in drug-induced ideas of objectivism that fade in and out. Although the film is chronological with title cards for the beginning and ending of each relationship, there’s a sense of meaningful meandering.

One of the most perfect scenes is when Lacy finds herself overwhelmed with stress that she stays home sick on her first day of school after the summer. As she lies on the couch with a bag for her vomit, Clarissa Explains It All plays in the background. Those little moments of nothing may seem as such, but the realism in that nostalic presentation of isolation and frustration is so beautifully spun. It makes the many moments of Lacy’s lies seem practical as a means of both entertainment and defense. Life can be dull and the greater moments of Lacy connecting with Wayne’s daughter in the mall or being dazzled by Avi’s forest play are fleeting. Lacy’s grip on her mother’s arm come nightfall is more essential than sweet when considering how she views her own life.

There’s a warm nature to how Janet Planet evokes an almost eerie level of relatable moments. The performances are so subtle and beautifully staged in an almost effortless encapsulation of a coming-of-age summer from the 1990s. Childhood is a varied experience where we all experience it through different lenses of the summer. Some of us went to fairs with the family or the pool with our friends. Others, however, recall feeling such ennui that all we wanted to do was lie under the kitchen table and microwave a simple dinner when the sun went down. Janet Planet is for those kids who felt that emptiness and longing without the burden of having the experience smeared into melodramatic mush.

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