Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Phyllis Nagy
Writers: Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi
Stars: Elizabeth Banks, Chris Messina, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards
By Morgan Roberts
In 1968 America, abortion was illegal. Illegal did not mean, nor has it ever meant, not occurring. On the contrary. When abortion is illegal, it generally just means it is unsafe. In “Call Jane,”(2022) director Phyllis Nagy explores the women who fought to make abortion legal while providing access to pregnant termination.
Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is a housewife who learns that she has developed a serious medical condition during her second pregnancy. It is recommended that the best option is to terminate the pregnancy. There is just one tiny obstacle: abortions are not legal in the United States. The film then follows Joy through the many hurdles women had to endure in order to get a pregnancy termination; afterwards, she finds herself enveloped into the pro-choice movement.
The film works tirelessly to demonstrate that women and uterine people seeking pregnancy termination are not there for the same reasons. The Jane Collective, the real-life underground abortion provider, saw women coming in due to financial insecurity, medical issues, or simply needing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
“Call Jane” navigates the numerous sociopolitical pieces that are always at play: race, class, psychosocial supports, gender. Throughout the film as well, Nagy highlights the many ways women support each other. From making spaghetti post-procedure, to holding someone’s hand when they need it most, to simply just hearing their story. All of these pieces are woven together and brought to life by a truly extraordinary cast.
Banks brings love and charm to Joy, a woman learning to find her own autonomy and purpose. There are moments where she breaks your heart but quickly consoles it with a quick-witted line. Banks, known mainly for her comedic work, balances the weight and humor so tremendously. Sigourney Weaver is brilliant as ever as Virginia, the main organizer of Jane Collective. Weaver is effortless in this role, bringing warmth and strength into every scene. Wunmi Mosaku portrays Gwen, the only Black woman in the Jane Collective. During the Q&A portion of the film’s premiere, Mosaku discussed the work it took to understand how her character was the only person of color in the room and what kept her coming back to that space. In her performance, you can see that inner conflict.
The film also has Grace Edwards as Joy’s daughter Charlotte, who personifies the struggle between remaining blissfully ignorant and finding your stance on the struggles of the world. Kate Mara portrays widowed neighbor Lana, who, at times, is a sounding board and confidant for Joy. And Chris Messina plays Will, Joy’s husband, who finds ways to support his wife despite struggling with the societal expectations of his gender.
Overall, “Call Jane” is an important film that brings to life a not-so-distant past. One that shows the strength of women, but also the compounding ways a patriarchal society uses to oppress them. It is a film that challenges our understanding of pre-Roe v. Wade life, and is an urgent call to action to protect vital healthcare.