Directed by: Phyllis Nagy
Premise: Set several years before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, a woman (Elizabeth Banks) starts working with a group of feminist activists who provide underground abortions. She must keep her activities a secret from her family.
What Works: In the 1960s a group of feminist activists known as the Janes ran an underground program in Chicago that provided abortions. The 2022 feature film Call Jane is fiction that is based on fact and the movie is effective agitprop. Call Jane has a political agenda—it’s a pro-abortion work—and the filmmakers do an effective job embedding those politics into the filmmaking. While it isn’t subtle or coy about its political intentions, Call Jane is not didactic either. The first third of the story is about Joy, an apolitical suburban housewife, who learns that her pregnancy is putting her life at great risk. She seeks an abortion through her doctor but is denied and the film dramatizes Joy’s isolation and the way she is deprived of autonomy. The scenes of Joy’s abortion capture her fear and anxiety and later scenes emphasize the way these women care for each other, setting them in opposition to the callous male dominated medical establishment. Joy is played by Elizabeth Banks who is quite good in the role. The character goes through a transformation, losing her innocence and gaining a political consciousness which is evident in the subtleties of Banks’ performance. Sigourney Weaver is also impressive as the leader of the Janes. The character isn’t allowed much depth but Weaver gets some glib dialogue and she energizes every scene she is in.
What Doesn’t: Call Jane suffers from some ugly imagery. The lighting or the color timing is off and the film frequently looks murky but not in a way that supports the themes of the story. It’s just sloppy filmmaking. The story alternates between Joy’s clandestine activism and her family life and the domestic subplot doesn’t go anywhere. She’s lying to her husband and daughter but nothing comes of that conflict. The family also has a complicated relationship with the widowed neighbor but this also comes to nothing. The narrative collapses in the end. The film isn’t really building up to anything and it’s a story without a crisis or a climax. The final scene makes reference to a police raid but none of that is in the movie. As rhetoric, Call Jane is guilty of strawman arguments in the way it downplays the medical risks of the abortion procedure. An important turn in the story involves untrained medical staff performing the procedure and this is presented in a way that minimizes legitimate medical considerations.
Bottom Line: Call Jane is a mostly effective political drama. The story loses its way and the filmmaking suffers from some ugly cinematography but the underlying political point is dramatized well enough.
Episode: #926 (November 6, 2022)