CALL JANE | ©2022 Roadside Attractions

CALL JANE | ©2022 Roadside Attractions

Rating: R
Stars: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, John Magaro
Writers: Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi
Director: Phyllis Nagy
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Release Date: October 28, 2022

In CALL JANE, Jane turns out not to be a person. Instead, the Jane Collective is the group name of women who helped other women get abortion services from the mid-‘60s through 1972.

We start out in Chicago in 1968, where protesters are getting loud outside the Democratic National Convention.

Joy Griffin (Elizabeth Banks) is curious, but has more immediate concerns as wife, to just-promoted lawyer Will (Chris Messina), and mother to their fifteen-year-old daughter Charlotte (Grace Edwards).

Joy and Will are both happy about her pregnancy with their second child. Then Jane faints at home, and Will rushes her to the doctor. It’s discovered that Joy has likely lethal congestive heart failure that cannot be treated while she is pregnant. The all-male, all-white hospital board decides that, even if Joy dies, there’s still a fifty-fifty chance that the baby may be born healthy. They therefore won’t approve an abortion.

Not wanting to die, Joy takes money out of Will’s account (while it technically became legal in the 1960s, many U.S. banks would not give women their own credit until 1974), and seeks help. She finds a flyer that implies a service with specifying what it is, offering the words “Call Jane” and a phone number.

Dean (Cory Michael Smith), the man who performs the abortion itself, has no bedside manner. However, the women of “Jane,” led by the unstoppable Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), are otherwise compassionate. They get Joy to and from the procedure, even giving her a hot meal and after-care before sending her home again.

Joy goes from wanting to forget about the whole thing to tentative involvement to outright commitment. This puts her front and center for all of the group’s issues, including how to get abortions for women who can’t afford Dean’s high prices, racism within the group, the problem that demand is far greater than supply, and more.

At the same time, Joy doesn’t want Will or Charlotte to find out what she’s really doing when she leaves the house.

Although CALL JANE is fictionalized, much of it is based on fact. Not only was there a real Jane Collective, but many details (Dean’s background, how the group eventually addressed women who couldn’t pay, even the racial issues) are part of the organization’s actual history.

It might have been more interesting to see Virginia and Co. dealing with the Mob (something mentioned several times, but not shown) than quite so much of Joy’s domestic angst.

However, the screenplay by Hayley Schore & Roshan Sethi mostly feels lifelike. The messages are part of the storytelling, rather than shoehorned into the dialogue, and the character dilemmas are wholly credible.

Director Phyllis Nagy also creates the right period look and sensibility. There are elements that play as a little more timeless than ‘60s, but nothing feels anachronistic.

The casting is also terrific. Banks nails the voice, appearance and movement of a woman in Joy’s privileged position. Weaver has a plaintive sincerity that speaks volumes. Wunmi Mosaku combines gentleness and rage as a Jane’s Collective leader who can take only so much of her peers’ blind spots. Messina makes the perplexed Will more human than cliché, and Edwards is believable as the worried Charlotte. Smith brings the same kind of cool dexterity to Dean that he displayed as Edward Nygma on GOTHAM, albeit here he tones it down to fit the overall tone.

CALL JANE does not investigate “fine people on both sides.” It has a binary sense of good and bad, and plays out along those lines. It is a compelling narrative, and for those who want to investigate what’s real and what’s invented, an eye-opening piece of our nation’s past and (in some states) present as well.

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