Annie Baker is one of the best playwrights in the United States. She just works in the theater, which makes it less obvious. But pick up any of Baker’s plays—they’re all easy to find—and you’ll be drawn in by his perfectly drawn characters, honest descriptions of life’s hard choices, and the absurdity of daily talk.
It would be easy to tell people on this site to read her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Flick, but I can’t think of a more true recent book about movie love, and it might be easier to just say that she writes well about movies and has good taste.
Then it was great to hear from reliable people that Baker’s first movie was done. Following one lead after another, we can find out some important details: it has at least a working title of Janet Planet, is produced by Dan Janvey (Nomadland), and, according to a casting call, is about “11-year-old Lacy, her mother Janet, and the three people who come into their lives over the summer of 1991.”
Because they are on the Production List, we know that Julianne Nicholson (Blonde, Mare of Easttown) and Sophie Okonedo (Catherine Called Birdy) are in Baker’s projects. Okonedo’s CV, the CV of the First Assistant Director, and Janet’s production designer all say that the movie was made by A24. (In a 2015 talk with Marc Maron, Baker said that A24 employee Scott Rudin was the first person to try to make a full-length movie. People think that he doesn’t do much anymore.)
Theater Icon Annie Baker’s Strange Film Debut in ‘Janet Planet’
In Janet Planet, Julianne Nicholson does a great job as Janet, a mother who wants to meet new people while still being close to her daughter Lacy (Zoe Ziegler). The movie’s mood changes from scene to scene. It has three acts, and each one is marked by a new stranger coming into Janet’s life and, by extension, Lacy’s life.
Will Patton plays Janet’s new, unhappy boyfriend, Wayne. Sophie Okonedo, who plays Regina, is also there. She has known Janet for a long time and is trying to start over in life. Elias Koteas plays Avi, the last person in the story. Avi is a director of “alternative theater,” and Janet is someone he likes.
As the story goes on, the viewer’s sense of reality gets more and more shaky as Lacy comes to a quiet but important realization about the next step in her growing up.
Lacy is the one who sees everything most of the time. Baker says, “When I was 11, I knew how I related to adults, nature, and my environment very well.” How does she say what she thinks and feels? “Being an 11-year-old girl is about looking, but it’s also about looking at yourself while being looked at.”
In other words, being 11 years old can feel strange. In one scene, Lacy stands in front of a mirror and does nothing but look at herself. It makes me think of a still life of a tween going crazy. The movie’s main pictures, which are always close to her, add to this feeling. The photography was done by Maria von Hausswolff (Godland), and it goes from being very real to looking like a beautiful dream.
These two styles don’t go together very well. “Someone asked me, “Is any of this movie done with your hands?” That’s when I realized that a lot of kids’ movies out now are shown on small screens. “I guess it makes you think right away about points of view,” says Baker. “But when I was 11, I didn’t feel that way.” It was tough to keep. Stranger still, I was only 11.”
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