‘Call Jane’ review: Elizabeth Banks stars in fictional look at a pre-Roe world through one woman’s abortion journey


“Call Jane” is a good example of how a few questionable choices can confound an otherwise powerful story, with HBO’s recent documentary version of these events, “The Janes,” eclipsing this fictional dramatic account. The portrait of an underground abortion network before Roe v. Wade is obviously timely, but his slightly off-kilter approach detracts from the overall impact.

Part of this has to do with making Elizabeth Banks Joy, a privileged housewife living in Chicago in 1968, the centerpiece of the film, presenting her as somewhat alien to the tumult of the times. With a teenage daughter, she and her lawyer husband (Chris Messina) are expecting a baby later in life, before a health scare reveals a heart condition that makes childbirth especially dangerous for her.

Joy initially petitions the hospital board for permission to terminate the pregnancy, but her request is dismissively denied by the panel of men. This leads her to an underground abortion network and eventually to her own growing involvement in the service and indeed the movement, guided by the older, wiser, and infinitely more cynical Virginia (Sigourney Weaver, classifying the joint, as usual).

Directed by Phyllis Nagy (whose previous directorial credit was the HBO film “Mrs. Harris”) from a screenplay by Haley Shore and Roshan Sethi, “Call Jane” hits its stride with the extended scene where Joy receives her abortion. , guided calmly, if not so gently, by the eccentric man (“Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith”) who plays her. The sequence slowly and painfully captures the mixture of fear and discomfort that Joy feels, after her blindfolded journey to the place and the dimly lit room where it happens.

If the ultimate goal of “Call Jane” is to present the dangers of “street” abortions in the context of Roe’s reversal, the mission accomplished and the subsequent stories of those seeking the service underscore the different motivations involved. The film also highlights racial and class disparities, passionately articulated by an activist played by Wunmi Mosaku, when raising $600 decided who was taken in and who was sent away.

As constructed, however, the film is bogged down by what seems like minutiae, from Joy’s husband expressing growing irritation at her unexplained whereabouts to the widowed next-door neighbor (Kate Mara, severely underemployed) who Joy he is reluctant to accept her trust.

The writers clearly intended to personalize the abortion conversation through their Everywoman protagonist, and Banks fills that role ably. Still, making this a one-woman story narrows the narrative at least as much as it universalizes it, especially in the context of other movies and TV shows that have tackled this topic.

“Call Jane” still feels like a movie that deserves to be seen, and its release so close to the US midterm elections adds to the abortion rights conversation, until and although it is unlikely that many will rush to see it, it hardly seems accidental.

The film itself, however, does not rise to the occasion. Given that, for a more enlightening look at life before Roe, what it was like then, and what it might be again, watching the documentary provides a more compelling picture.

“Call Jane” opens in theaters in the United States on October 28. It has an R rating.

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