'​Call Jane' Is a Well-Acted Introduction to Reproductive Rights Directed by Phyllis Nagy

Starring Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku
'​Call Jane' Is a Well-Acted Introduction to Reproductive Rights Directed by Phyllis Nagy
Photo: Sundance Institute / Wilson Webb
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Call Jane details an underground abortion service in Chicago that existed from 1969 to 1973, when the procedure was illegal in most of the US. Phyllis Nagy delivers a heavy topic in a palatable manner that should work for a wider audience, with a beautiful performance from Elizabeth Banks.

The Jane Collective were an organization that helped women obtain safe abortions without judgment. Call Jane's focus is not on the formation of the organization or the infamous raid in 1972. Instead, Nagy concentrates on an important turning point for the group, when members learned how to perform the procedure themselves. 

Banks plays Joy, a housewife and mother who is pregnant with her second child. When her pregnancy begins to cause her health issues, her doctor advises that her best course of action is to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life. The hospital board votes against the request, forcing Joy to go underground.

After Joy connects with the Janes and has a safe and successful abortion, she eventually joins the ranks. It is through Joy that the Janes are introduced to the idea of performing their own abortions, resulting in thousands of women (particularly low-income women) being afforded a safe option.

In a rare dramatic role, Banks absolutely shines. She brings warmth and strength to Joy, and fits the era like a glove. Banks shows the pressure and resistance some women held during that time — a desire to be a good wife and mom, but keen to expand her horizons. Sigourney Weaver plays the leader of the Janes and channels a Gloria Steinem-esque power and grace to the role.

That Nagy chose to tell the story of the Janes through a white, wealthy character like Joy dictates the lens we see the story through. While racial and socioeconomic issues are raised, they are ancillary to the story because our protagonist isn't affected by them. Rather than a dark, dramatic tale, Call Jane is a tame, sanitized account of what happened. Arguably, an accurate picture isn't painted and important issues are treated like a footnote. But the family-friendly retelling does open the story to a wider audience who may not be able to sit through a heavy film about illegal abortions.

The story of the Janes is a part of American and women's history that is frighteningly still relevant today. Call Jane may not be an edgy interpretation that's looking to change minds, but it will certainly be a great jumping-off point for younger generations to familiarize and educate themselves. (Ingenious)