“Call Jane” revisits the bad old days of the sixties and early seventies when it was illegal to get a therapeutic abortion in the United States. Elizabeth Banks plays Joy Farrell, the wife of an attorney (Will, played by Chris Messina) and the mother of a teenaged daughter, Charlotte (Grace Edwards).
Elizabeth finds herself pregnant. In the first three months, she develops a cardiac condition, cardiomyopathy, which could well prove fatal if she continues the pregnancy through to the end. She and her husband petition the hospital board to allow Joy to have a therapeutic abortion. In turning her down, the all male board announces that they had only given one such dispensation in 10 years.
I am probably one of the few reviewers who lived through this era. In fact, I had a friend, a fellow classmate on campus at the University of Iowa, who died because she attempted to self-induce an abortion. It was the odor of her body decomposing that alerted the authorities in her apartment building near campus that something was amiss. For me, movies like this are not ancient history. They are what I lived through.
The entire concept of “Call Jane” feels real, to me in 2022, with the attack on women’s rights by the GOP. The old French saying, “La plus ca change, la plus ca meme,” (The more things change, the more they stay the same) seems relevant.
What didn’t feel real to me was a twist the plot takes late in the game when “Dean” (played by Cory Michael Smith), the lead OB/GYN doctor, is let go and a person with no qualifications to perform an abortion takes over. That, to me, seemed to sum up the desperation of the times, but I question whether the individual really went that far out on that limb of illegality.
Although Elizabeth Banks’ participation in the film is noised about, little is said about Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the original “Jane,” Helen, who spearheads the effort to provide services to desperate women, or about Kate Mara, who plays a neighbor. (Mara’s role could have easily been dispensed with entirely).
Chris Messina (“Damages,””Argo,” “The Newsroom”) plays Joy’s husband, with a bad haircut from the era. All of the male haircuts looked strange. However, the flip that Elizabeth Banks sports throughout the film looked quite timely. I smiled at the line in the script when a character is asked, “Do you smoke?” and the response was, “Everybody smokes.” (Very true).
This thought, articulated by writers Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, also rang true: “You think you’re in control of your life, and, just like that, you realize you’re not.” Another good line, given to Banks’ daughter, who does not want to know about unpleasant things, was, “I don’t wanna know about babies dying, or people getting shot, or periods, or Vietnam.” Director Phyllis Nagy does well with a good cast, and the cinematography from Greta Zozula is equally good.
With the current Supreme Court outlawing Roe v. Wade and throwing the country into chaos over the right to an abortion that women had enjoyed for the previous 50 years, the theme was certainly very topical. Earlier iterations of the film had Elizabeth Moss and/or Susan Sarandon attached.
The 2 hour and 1 minute film premieres on October 28th, just 5 days after the 58th Chicago International Film Festival ends.