(director/writer: Annie Baker; cinematographer: Maria von Hausswolf; editor: Lucian Johnson; music: Joe Rudge; cast: Julianne Nicholson (Janet), Zoe Ziegler (Lacy), Sophie Okonedo (Regina), Elias Koteas (Avi), Will Patton (Wayne), Mary Shultz (Davina, Edie Moon Kearns (Sequoia); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dan Janvey, Derrick Tseng, Annie Baker, Andrew Goldman; A24; 2023)

“It makes some keen observations on the travails of childhood and of a single mom raising a needy child.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the first film by Annie Baxter, the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright. It makes some keen observations on the travails of childhood and of a single mom raising a needy child. It uses spare dialogue to tell its perceptive family bonding tale between a free-spirited single mom named Janet (Julianne Nicholson), an acupuncturist, and her depressed, precocious 11-year-old daughter Lacy (Zoe Ziegler), living in the idyllic rural woodlands of Western Massachusetts, in 1991.

When the spoiled Lacy wants to opt out of summer camp,
she calls mom and says “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t come pick me up.” Janet and her live-in boyfriend Wayne (Will Patton) rush over to take her home. At home, the troubled Lacy clashes with the moody Wayne, and Janet has to keep smoothing things over between them.

The headstrong Lacy dearly loves her mother, and on occasions they sleep together. Janet hopes she’s not messing up her kid by not restraining her more, as Lacy hasn’t the gumption to let go of mom or disagree with her. There’s a deep love between them, but Janet questions if her kid will turn out OK.

There are a few richly done vignettes, in which Lacy shares her life with Janet’s different interlopers after the gruff Wayne exits, such as with an old friend Regina (Sophie Okonedo), then a self-proclaimed New Age mystic named Avi (Elias Koteas).

The scene that impressed me most has the confused Janet, after saying little for most of the film, late-at-night goes into a heart-felt articulate confession about how she maybe didn’t raise Lacy the right way.

It’s a dry film that does a good job immersing itself in an uneventful childhood story that might not always be interesting but is always intelligent.

It played at the New York Film Festival.

 REVIEWED ON 11/17/2023  GRADE: B