The 2022 Sundance Film Festival continues to deliver films inspired by true events and Call Jane is one of the anticipated standouts.
Inspired by the Jane Collective, a real-life network of women who provided illegal abortions at the time, Call Jane is a fictional drama that follows Joy Griffin (Elizabeth Banks), who finds herself in need of a life-saving pregnancy termination. She is the picture-perfect 1960s housewife of a conservative criminal justice lawyer. Her husband begrudgingly helps her appeal to an all-male hospital board to approve her abortion. Expectedly, the appeal is rejected, and the decision to save a fetus over a mother is made without hesitation. A familiar story, yes? Left without a choice, Joy seeks more illicit avenues of healthcare services. Within this journey, she finds “Jane”.
Call Jane marks Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s directorial feature debut. Nagy approaches this deeply relevant subject matter with a dramatized lens, simplifying the need for reproductive healthcare for the audience. Her directing style consisted of various long takes that stood out amongst the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the cinematography felt like it was trying too hard to make the film seem like it is better than it is. The first act especially suffers many tonally disjointed moments, not finding its visual rhythm until later on.
Narratively, the film’s focus on an upper-class white woman being the hero of this movement undercuts deeper systemic issues that persist today. The leader of the film’s Jane Collective, Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), furthers this superficial agenda. She’s an activist with ideological conflicts with Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku), a young Black activist. Despite Gwen’s character bringing up economic and racial disparities in reproductive healthcare access, the film quickly sweeps away the subject. Though it is a smaller part of the film, its impact left a sour taste.
One of the most bothersome aspects of Call Jane is its ending. The third act in particular breezes through many significant struggles of the activist group. It is clear once again that this film is not about women’s rights, but rather a woman’s personal character development. Banks’ performance is adequate, but Weaver easily out acts her every time they share a scene. Regardless, both characters end the film as apparent heroes, tying everything with a bow once the Supreme Court legalizes abortion in the early 1970s. The way they celebrated resolving a cause, deciding to move onto the next one (“Equal pay? Equal pay.”), felt disingenuous at best. Overall, the film’s tone was disjointed as it juggled between its hero and the movement.
Upon initial watch, Call Jane is a bit obtuse with its message but seemingly inoffensive enough. However, the more the film sits with one, the more problematic details arise. There was an opportunity to dive into abortion access and women’s healthcare rights with a more prudent lens. Unfortunately, Call Jane does not add much at all to the conversation, especially considering the current political climate regarding increasing restrictions to accessible reproductive healthcare. – Ileana Meléndez
Call Jane‘s release date is yet to be announced.
The film stars Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, and Wunmi Mosaku.