Call Jane is an incredibly timely release considering the recent controversies surrounding women’s rights to safe pregnancy terminations in Texas. And you wouldn’t be mistaken to think that a film about this subject matter could have a darker, more dramatic take. However, what separates Call Jane from the rest of the movies about abortion, is its high-spirited, celebratory nature of the pioneers in the women’s health rights movement, without losing any of the serious discussions that this movie will certainly present, and conversations that have been ongoing for decades now.
Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) stars in this 1960s tale as Joy. As stereotypical as the nuclear-family housewife can get, Joy spends her days cooking, cleaning and doing school runs for her children, while her lawyer husband Will (Chris Messina), works ‘tirelessly’ to bring home the bread. However, Joy’s life is turned upside down, when an unwanted pregnancy causes an existing heart condition to be exacerbated. She’s given the choice no person ever wants to face: she lives, or the baby lives.
A heart wrenching, but mutual decision made between Joy and Will leads to them having to have their case for the termination of the pregnancy, be decided by a board of all male health professionals, who decide that if a healthy baby is going to be born, then the abortion will not go ahead. Despite Joy’s efforts to make the board aware that it should be her choice, as it’s her body, she is forced to track down someone who can, at this point in time, illegally perform the procedure that will save her life.
The underground service known as ‘Call Jane’, introduces Joy to Virginia (Sigourney Weaver, Alien), a liberal, female rights activist who facilitates the operation by allowing those in need, a safe place to have the procedure done by a legitimate doctor (who has different, financially motivated reasons for helping these ladies out). Unexpectedly to Joy, she then becomes enamoured with the drive and desire to help those who were in her shoes, and leads the charge alongside Virginia as pioneers of the women’s health rights movements in 1960s America.
As briefly stated earlier, Call Jane is a celebration of these women and what they achieved in a tumultuous time. What could’ve been a macabre affair, reminiscent of 2021s Happening (a film about a woman seeking an illegal abortion in France), rather focuses on the more positive aspects of the story. Call Jane centres itself around the community of women who banded together in a time of need, and portrays them as loving people. While that seems like an obvious take, the moments of levity and light comedy make this quite an enjoyable watch. A lot of that is felt through the chemistry between Banks and Weaver, who both give outstanding performances.
This is not to say the story has its shocking and heavier moments. The abortion scenes are often filled with many conflicting emotions. The endless morality divide of the women who are choosing to have this procedure down, and their apprehension to the social reaction that came with it during this time. Call Jane never once makes light of its subject matter, always highlighting the seriousness and the pain it caused many women during this time. However, it’s accessibility through it’s caring and lighter tone, while balancing the reality of the situation, is one to be admired.
Unfortunately, the film does fall apart in its final act, and quite noticeably. The story seems to wrap itself up far too quickly. While it has a slow build up and can feel slightly repetitive, or have story arcs for supporting characters that don’t feel necessary, it hits the emotional climax and reveals of the film with a pace that is jarring. Characters are challenged, move on, and then return within the space of 5 minutes, speeding through any emotional grab it may have had if it was a little more patient. The film also finishes with an expositional voice over dump in its last scene that feels cheaper than the rest of the film deserves. It just reeks of a studio going: “we need to speed up this finale!” Sadly, it does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, after pretty decent movie until that point.
Overall, the majority of Call Jane is anchored by great lead performances from Banks and Weaver, in a story that is accessible for all audiences, without losing it’s emotional weight and seriousness of it’s subject matter.
Call Jane played at the 2022 Brisbane International Film Festival, and will stream on Prime VIdeo from November 25.
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