Directed by Phyllis Nagy.
With Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Wunmi Mosaku, Kate Mara, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, John Magaro, Aida Turturro, Emily Creighton, Gina Jun, Rebecca Henderson, Bianca D’Ambrosio, Evangeline Young, Kristina Harrison, Alison Jaye, Kayla Foster, John Rothman, Bruce MacVittie, Maia Scalia and Geoffrey Cantor.
A married woman with an unwanted pregnancy lives in a time in America where she cannot get a legal abortion and works with a group of suburban women to find help.
There’s no doubt that director Phyllis Nagy has made Call Jane with noble intentions. Abortion stories are more important than ever, given current legislation attacking women’s rights, but it’s also possible to care so much about this movement and what it was in 1968 that a story loses all meaning. It’s a film that wants to approach the Janes (a women’s liberation group that performs illegal abortions) from all angles, also from the misguided approach of a closed-minded woman’s journey from enlightenment to the simple savior activist who can’t be wrong.
Suburban mom Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is married to lawyer Will (Chris Messina) and pregnant with her second child. She also has a congenital heart defect that halves her chances of surviving the pregnancy, and a conservative-minded husband who seems to disapprove of therapeutic abortion. After some thought, Joy secretly leaves and finds the Janes, paying the required $600 for the abortion performed by the group’s only man and doctor, Dean (Cory Michael Smith).
Much to Joy’s surprise, she is still contacted and encouraged to find other women in need of abortions. At first, Joy is worried. She then becomes offended when a young woman mentions that her abortion was due to an affair with a married man (who regularly takes advantage of her naivety). A few minutes later, her eyes open and everyone is on the same page. That sums up Call Janewhich shockingly ignores the side effects and Joy’s psychological state of her own abortion, to paddle out like a grueling series of repetitive lessons for a privileged white woman.
Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi’s screenplay takes a light-hearted approach that never freezes, given the seriousness and emotional weight of the subject matter. It’s more about Joy stealthily covering her tracks and avoiding suspicion from her husband and teenage daughter (Grace Edwards) rather than the Janes or deepening the complex discussions they must have at every meeting to determine who they will help and how they can spread the abortions over each week. The reason for this is that the film only sees these conversations as more opportunities to give Joy a teachable moment that can be useful for a high school education or a made-for-TV movie (which this whole project is screaming ), but not a thoughtful preview.
After Joy gains a lot of confidence, she is also allowed to meet Janes’ leader, Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), who provides most of these lessons. At least until Joy becomes ambitious and comes up with ideas to expand the operation they have, which includes learning to perform abortions themselves. There are some really pressing issues here, like how to choose who needs an abortion the most and how to ensure justice is done for less fortunate communities, but it’s all so superficial and bland, with no drama or weight behind it.
It’s also hard to find a terribly aggressive aspect of Call Jane; the performances are solid (Elizabeth Banks is presumably selling her character arc, and Sigourney Weaver is fiercely passionate about providing that support), it’s tolerable, and it’s undeniably important to demonstrate some of that on screen given that the pre-Roe v Wade times have circled back to the present. But the movie also feels like it’s just congratulating itself for doing those things without offering anything deep or substantial.
Call Jane recognizes all types of people and situations that would require an abortion, without ever exploring any of them. I suppose that would shorten the time of the privileged white woman’s transformation from a side-eyed suburban wife to a superhero activist who solved all dilemmas overnight.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]