Feminist drama “Call Jane” is one of the more mainstream films about the hot-button topic of abortion rights, yet it never feels controversial. The film is based on a group of women in Chicago in the 1960s who called themselves the Janes, a network of underground activists who made it their mission to aid women in getting safe, if illegal, abortions. It’s a story of compassion and humanity, of women helping women. It’s also one of hope and determination, as the Janes eventually learn to perform the procedure themselves.
Suburban housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks) lives a quiet life with her lawyer husband (Chris Messina) and daughter (Grace Edwards). She’s pregnant again, but is having complications. When her doctor discovers the baby is causing a life-threatening condition, he recommends termination of the pregnancy. Joy is turned down by the medical board since she has a slim chance of not dying by carrying the baby to term, and she gets spooked by the unsanitary world of back alley abortions after finding her way to a seedy location and eventually running out the door. Desperate, she notices a pamphlet encouraging “pregnant and alone” women to “Call Jane.” She does, and gets help from the clandestine organization of feminists.
After getting a safe procedure, Jane takes charge of her life and begins volunteering to help other women in her situation. Eventually, she asks to learn the procedure and in turn, teaches her colleagues, too. The network of women grows, aiding thousands.
It’s an inspiring story, but the film is a bit draggy. It’s repetitive as writers Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi echo the idea that women should be in control of their own medical decisions and their bodies. Abortion is a highly personal procedure that, if one chooses to have it, should be safe, affordable, and legal. A pregnant woman shouldn’t have to consider throwing herself down the stairs as a means of terminating an unwanted pregnancy in the age of modern medicine. It’s a drum that beats repeatedly here, and we all got the point long ago — even if the subject matter is chillingly relevant now more than ever.
The performances are strong and the casting on point, especially the decision to put Sigourney Weaver in the role of Virginia, who seems to be in charge of the Janes. She and Banks give layered performances that seem almost delicate on the surface, but there’s a lot of depth to both. The slightly grainy 16mm cinematography (from Grace Zozula) evokes a strong feeling of time and place, taking viewers right back to a time of unrest and change in America.
Reproductive rights are so important to protect, and “Call Jane” is a story about that and so much more. It’s uplifting to see one woman’s empathy towards others leading her to find a new purpose in helping other women in need, especially in a film that manages to be both infuriating and inspiring.