Call Jane (Review) – A Formidable Account Of Pre-Roe Healthcare

DIRECTOR: Phyllis Nagy

CAST: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, John Magaro, Aida Turturro, Bianca D’Ambrosio, Bruce MacVittie, Rebecca Henderson, Maia Scalia, Alison Jaye

RUNNING TIME: 121 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: In the 1960s, a group of women unite to give women the healthcare they desperately need…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

With the US midterm elections just days away, abortion is once again on the ballot as the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, having been shockingly overturned earlier this year by the Supreme Court, has become one of the biggest topics of concern amongst Democrat-leaning voters. Should things go south, women across the country risk losing full autonomy over their bodies, but abortion will never truly go away – it’ll just get a lot more difficult, and in some cases extremely dangerous, to acquire one. This is something that the new historical drama Call Jane makes very sure to point out with all its strength, on top of offering its audience a sobering, if somewhat lightweight, slice of history that’s worth reminding ourselves of why we should never, ever go back to how things were.

The film mostly takes place in 1968 – five years before Roe v. Wade – as Chicago housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks) lives a simple suburban lifestyle with her husband Will (Chris Messina) and their teenage daughter Charlotte (Grace Edwards). However, when her current pregnancy is revealed to be the cause of a possibly-fatal heart condition for Joy, it is recommended that she no longer be pregnant – unfortunately, a panel of doctors denies her termination, even if it means her dying while giving birth. Desperate for a solution, Joy soon comes across a flyer that advises pregnant women in her position to “call Jane” and secretly arrange an abortion; “Jane” turns out to be the shared name of a group of underground female activists, led by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), who give women an opportunity to terminate their pregnancy safely and securely, a cause that Joy soon begins to commit herself to.

It is interesting how Call Jane, the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated writer Phyllis Nagy, spends a lot of time on the actual abortion process, including how even in the safest of company it’s far from the most pleasurable experience. What many conservatives don’t seem to realise is that abortion isn’t something that women are actively excited about doing; no matter what the woman’s circumstance may be, it’s a lengthy procedure that requires a lot of discomfort and emotional distress for them, and what this film does rather well is to show how, especially in those pre-Roe years, it can be particularly dangerous in the wrong hands, with one false move meaning death for both the foetus and the mother. Nagy’s script and direction gives an equal amount of discomfort to scenes in which abortions are being performed, where without even getting into any graphic detail you still get enough of a sense that this is a method which carries a great deal of care and precision, with minimal damage under those with the right skills and temperament.

The most important thing about Call Jane, though, is its refusal to judge any of the women seeking the help of the Jane Collective, who are instead only concerned about giving them the necessary health care that simply isn’t available to them (at least, not yet). Nagy lends a lighter touch to her portrayal of this group of activists, which through both some considerate writing and strong performances from the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver you really do feel their growing commitment to the cause, particularly Banks whose arc in the film neatly reflects the growing feminist movement within the historical context of that late 1960s period. There is a real weight to the film’s intentions, least of all because of the current situation in 2022; there’s no question that women deserve all the healthcare they need, including access to abortion services, but as with Audrey Diwan’s Happening from earlier this year, it’s just as important that the back-alley methods used in those pre-Roe times, from the covert systems in place to the grubby amateur medical equipment, are dramatized to show exactly why that type of safe access is so much more necessary today. Again, though, Nagy never goes into too much graphic detail during the service itself, but allows just enough of a visual indication that it is a purely straightforward procedure, but is best done without all the secrecy or the legal loopholes.

The movie itself is a good depiction of that vital era of women’s healthcare, and while Nagy’s storytelling sometimes has too light a touch to really get into some of the more pressing concerns surrounding the topic (it also suffers from a rather rushed ending that skips over a significant moment in the Jane Collective’s legacy), it serves as a formidable and respectful account that should spark discussions left and right, especially now as the fate of women’s healthcare hangs in the balance.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Call Jane is a formidable and respectful account of pre-Roe v. Wade women’s healthcare, where the abortion process is treated with care and non-judgement while also not shying away from how, even in the most understandable circumstances, it is a uncomfortable but vital procedure, something that writer-director Phyllis Nagy and winning performances by Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver understand very well.

Call Jane is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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