Directed by Phyllis Nagy and written by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, a married woman with an unwanted pregnancy lives in a time in America where she can’t get a legal abortion and works with a group of suburban women to find help. Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, Kristina Harrison and Rebecca Henderson.
It’s undoubtedly a vital time to be telling this story, to try and shake Americans awake to the horrific repetition of history which they’re on the path to face, by restricting and criminalizing safe abortions. Especially when Call Jane is based on the true story of ‘The Janes’ who risked their freedom and livelihoods to protect women and it’s a shame that a lot of people probably don’t know their story. That’s really the biggest strength of this film because it hits home so hard, how this is an issue about choice yes, but also about health. These women were living in a time where if they were pregnant, there was an utter disregard for their health, only considerations for the baby, leaving them to desperately scrounging to find safe ways to take charge of their own bodies. Then you’ve got the beautiful way that this group comes together to provide that safe place, how women of all backgrounds work as team for the cause. The writing does take a few tangents here and there, and occasionally dips into being purely a family drama, which does less justice to the story, and it can move somewhat slow but it’s still utterly worth telling.
Unfortunately the other thing holding back this story is the direction, it falls more on the side of that family drama rather than the gripping, politically driven, feminist story. The palette is a touch dull, especially given that it’s based in a time surrounded by colour in design and outfits. However, its atmosphere does make it a more accessible introduction to the topic over something like Audrey Diwan’s Happening, which is a much grittier, gut punch of a perspective. In that sense, it walks a line which is not as powerful, there is a lot of power to this story and it’s not all getting the light of day. The struggle that they faced isn’t always at the forefront, so while that does work for a larger audience, it’s a shame not to see it truly delve into the whole issue. Although it does genuinely show the beautiful ingenuity of women, refusing to give up and doing what’s needed, no matter the risk.
You can easily see why Elizabeth Banks would be considered for this role, she perfectly fits into the 1960s housewife both in look and that perky persona with a touch of grit, waiting to be tested. Again, this feels like another choice that makes the story accessible, rather than going for an actress which a much heavier intensity. She’s hugely enjoyable to watch as Joy, particularly in how her perspective gets opened up and brings her energy to a whole new level. Sigourney Weaver and Chris Messina both bring exactly what you expect, they’re extremely reliable actors and always entertaining to watch. Cory Michael Smith is a slight surprise here, bringing a little bit of a different edge than usual, some coldness and selfishness which is fun to see from him. Then there’s Wunmi Mosaku who is an absolute treasure, a glowing star of anything and everything she’s in and hopefully we’ll be seeing her taking the lead more and more, especially after her fantastic turn in Netflix’s His House. Here she brings her usual charm and makes such a wonderful connection with Banks. The only outlier is Kate Mara, it doesn’t feel like a comfortable fit, it’s as if some of her scenes have been cut and she feels shoehorned into the story.
Call Jane tells a story that we need to hear, the world needs to be reminded of the lengths women had to go to, to protect themselves, so that we aren’t doomed to repeat them. There’s a great cast at work who all breathe a lot of life and charm into this story but it’s a shame it can’t quite build the power that it calls for. Phyllis Nagy’s direction feels too plain and simple, it’s not matching up with the importance and poignancy of this story. It’s such an important topic and while the film is enjoyable and captivating, it needed that extra punch to do true justice to these themes.