Call Jane – a 60’s abortion story with Elizabeth Banks shinning (Berlinale review)
Joy, a traditional 1960s American housewife, unexpectedly becomes pregnant again. Her husband, a successful lawyer is happy and she is too. Some light dizziness doesn’t worry her at first, but finally she learns of her condition that is potentially life threatening if the pregnancy progresses. Her doctor leads he to the all-male hospital board. They learn that Joy has 50-50 chances to survive the pregnancy in her condition, so they refuse to grant her an exception to the strict anti-abortion legislation. She has nowhere to turn, until she stumbles upon the “Janes”, an underground group of ordinary women lead by Virginia, who risk everything to provide choices for women like Joy. They not only save her life, but also give her a sense of purpose: to help other women take control of their destinies.
Joy’s transform from conservative housewife devoted to her husband and daughter to a women-rights-warrior is not happening overnight. She is not faced with just an unwanted pregnancy, but with a very real threat of her life. It is shocking to see the indifference of the male doctors just deny her the right to live. Elizabeth Banks portraits her as an always positive and happy woman, that understands her problem, but is in a hurry to meat Jane, get over with the “procedure” and return to her previous life. But Jane is not a person as she learns, is the now famous union of women that performed more than 10 thousands illegal at the time abortions. Jade is a community, an idea, a cause, and that cause becomes gradually the driving force in Joy’s life.
Phyllis Nagy dramatizes the real story of Jane, with an all ensemble cast, that includes apart from the perfectly casted Elizabeth Banks, the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku. The community of Jane is not always in total agreement on everything, after all they have in their lives numerous cases of women: rape victims, under-aged kids, health issues, and of course rich women with similar background to Joy that for whatever reason they or their married partners are willing to pay a lot to get rid of the problem. When only the rich can afford the service, then a lot of purer women, included all the women of color are excluded. But both Virginia and Joy have ideas to support everyone and reduce the cost, understanding the big help that they provide to so many souls.
The film is well meaning and aesthetically successful, with a great script, that doesn’t avoid some cliches mostly to light up the mood. “Call Jane” is a part of a plethora of films on the issue of abortion, the last years. Others like “24 weeks” are modern time dramas with issues like late term abortion on the center, others like “The Event”, last years Venice winner are set up like this film in the not so distant past of strict laws and woman desperation. There are also the modern films like “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” that followed the same path as “Call Jane” premiering in Sundance, to come to the Berlinale Competition a couple of weeks later, that explore how the new-age bigotry is emerging gradually worldwide, making it difficult for women to have a free will over their bodies. While Nagy’s film sometimes feels repetitive and a little too light in contrast to what other films have expressed on the issue, it is film that like all the others mentioned are needed, particularly because of the current state of the world.
by Phyllis Nagy
Screenplay: Hayley Schore, Roshan Sethi
with Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Wunmi Mosaku, Kate Mara
Country: USA Year: 2022