Call Jane moves well enough as an abortion history picture, even if it primarily paints with broad strokes.
Published on March 30, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Call Jane is a film that feels particularly poignant on abortion rights. In 1960s America, the movie focuses on a collective of women assembled to perform secretive abortions. With no doctor taking them seriously and male partners refusing assistance, it’s up to a collective of determined women to fight the war for their bodies. While it’d be easy for a film like this to drown in the depressing sexism of the era and the ongoing battle that continues to this very day, it’s somewhat surprising that this is a picture more about the hope that doesn’t come off as saccharine as it could’ve been.
Elizabeth Banks plays Joy, a typical housewife of 1960s America. Life seems excellent until her second pregnancy goes awry. With her life threatened by a botched development of her fetus, the doctors refuse to not only give Joy an abortion but even speak with her, even when she’s in the room during the decision. Trying to find any means of protecting her body from do-nothing doctors, Joy comes across an underground organization known as the Janes. Led by the blunt leader Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), the Janes attempt to liberate women by offering them abortions at a price. Intrigued by her struggle, Joy decides to get more involved with the Janes, aiding in their fight for abortion rights by getting abortions to those who need them.
This film makes a somewhat intelligent call to keep the narrative more clinical by focusing on the central themes and struggles than the characters. Joy is a character worth following but more for her drive for newfound women’s rights than her family life. There comes the point where it seems like she’ll come to blows with her mildly sexist husband, Will (Chris Messina). And yet, when Will learns about Joy’s backroom abortion meetings, his frustrations quickly turn to forgiveness. As difficult as it is to believe that a sexist husband of the 1960s would turn ally so smoothly, that hopeful nature paints the picture with more of a triumphant drive.
It was also rather pleasing to see how this film delved into areas I did not expect. One member of the Janes is a black woman who deeply questions the work that they’re doing and how it is not made as affordable to black communities. She makes an excellent point to Virginia about how a refusal to work with black women also facing abortion issues attributed to the progression of black genocide. It’s a topic that Virginia stumbles around, bouncing between thinking black genocide is too loaded to stressing how she marched in the civil rights movement. There’s a bias worth questioning as the Janes seek ways to better themselves and ensure that the excellent fight remains good.
Call Jane moves well enough as an abortion history picture, even if it primarily paints with broad strokes. It’s presented breezy enough that it could quickly become classroom viewing on the subject and profound enough to make the inner gears turn more on the topic. The film ends on a high note with the Janes disbanding, feeling redundant, and taking a bow with grace. If it can happen once, it can happen again, making the fight for abortions feel like a war that can be won but must always be fought.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.