Mother-Daughter Story Struggles to Find the Drama


Poster for JANET PLANET (2024)

“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” —Frank Capra

I wish I could tell you Janet Planet is intimate, looks great, put a lot of thought into its production design, and centered its story on great—and then I wish I could stop telling you anything at all.

Set in ‘90s Massachusetts, we meet 11-year-old Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) as she is calling her mother Janet (Julianne Nicholson) in the middle night begging her to pick her up from camp—she insists she’ll kill herself if she has to stay. Upon her rescue, though, she’s disappointed Janet’s boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton) is still in the picture. But that’s just the beginning of her Third Wheel Summer (the lonelier and awkward cousin of Hot Girl Summer). Janet’s serial appetency to attach herself to another person never wavers, making an intense reconnection with an old friend (Sophie Okonedo) and a new connection with the leader of nearby commune (Elias Koteas). Meanwhile Lacy is always watching and always waiting, hoping to become the center of her mother’s orbit.

Julianne Nicholson and Sophie Okonedo in JANET PLANET (2023)

On paper, this mother-daughter drama from a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright making her feature film writing/directing debut sounds promising, and not just because the mother-daughter drama set in Connecticut Gilmore Girls is my favorite television series. The rural setting is beautifully shot, and the production design team went to work recreating my ‘90s childhood. Ziegler is a standout kid actor, and the ideas are crunchy. 

If only it weren’t so dull. As Capra suggested, I can overlook a lot of flaws, but that’s one I can’t forgive. A distinct aesthetic doesn’t necessarily fuel momentum. Every shot feels stretched as long as it could be to make it a feature length film, and though the final product is 113 minutes, there only seems to be enough story for about 83. The camera rarely moves, and we leave feeling like the themes about narcissistic parenting, crippling introversion, and searching for an identity are half-explored.

Julianne Nicholson and Zoe Ziegler in JANET PLANET (2023)