Call Jane (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A story about women called “Jane”

“Call Jane” presents a conventional fictional story inspired by a real-life story about a group of remarkable women who tried their best for providing safe abortion to many women during the late 1960s. Although its overall result is a bit too mild in my humble opinion, the movie is fairly engaging at least thanks to good storytelling and solid performances, and its main subject surely resonates a lot with what is going on in the American society at present.

The story, which is set in Chicago in 1968, is unfolded mainly via the viewpoint of its fictional heroine who is just your average middle-class American suburban wife. When she belatedly discovers that she has been pregnant for several weeks, Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is not so pleased at all for good reasons. First, she and her lawyer husband did not plan to have another child besides their adolescent daughter, and, above all, her current pregnancy turns out to be quite risky for her life as well as her health.

Naturally, both she and her husband prefer abortion, but there is a big problem because her case has to be reviewed by a group of hospital doctors, most of whom are incidentally male. No matter how much she tries, they do not listen to her at all from the beginning, and they flatly reject to do an abortion for her. At least, her doctor suggests some other option for getting the approval on her abortion, but Joy does not like that option at all, and that makes her all the more frustrated.

In the end, Joy decides to take care of the matter for herself in private, but that turns out to be much difficult than expected. Although she manages to get some money for her abortion without telling anything to her husband, she cannot help but become very anxious when she visits a certain shady spot in one slum neighborhood area of Chicago. Instantly sensing that this spot is not very good for her at all, Joy hurriedly leaves, and then she comes across a small advertisement for pregnant women, and she later comes to use the telephone number on that advertisement.

All Joy has to do is calling for “Jane” via that telephone number while giving some information on how she can be approached on the phone later. Again, she becomes very nervous, but, what do you know, what follows next turns out to be much less painful than expected. Once everything is arranged for her in private, she meets an abortionist associated with “Jane”, and everything is done pretty quick before she gets some little rest and comfort at an office place packed with women working under that code name.

Their leader is Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), and it does not take much time for Joy to get drawn into what Virginia and her colleagues have been doing for several months in secret. At first, Joy reluctantly agrees to be a temporary driver for women in the urgent need of abortion just like her, but, what do you know, she becomes more interested in becoming a “Jane” as coming to learn more of how valuable “Janes” are to many women out there. Eventually, she becomes a lot more active than she ever imagined at first, and she even becomes willing to go further than many of her colleagues.

While Joy and her colleagues sometimes clash with each other over a number of matters including the one involved with how their service should be more accessible to their poorest clients, they all know too well that they should be really careful all the time because abortion is still mostly illegal throughout the country. Joy keeps telling her husband and daughter that she is occasionally attending an art class outside, but, of course, they soon wonder more about what she is exactly doing out there, and that consequently puts some strain on her relationship with them.

The screenplay by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi feels unfocused at times as trying to show and tell a little too many stuffs within the 2-hour running time, but it still engages us via episodic human moments among Joy and many other female characters around her. Whenever Joy and her colleagues gather and work together on the screen, the movie becomes more energized than usual, and you may wish that the movie could delve more into their passion and dedication instead of merely following its heroine’s conventional character arc.

Anyway, the main cast of the film are enjoyable to watch on the whole. Elizabeth Banks, whom I still fondly remember for her game efforts in that sticky B-horror comedy film “Slither” (2006), is believable in her character’s gradual growth along the story, and Sigourney Weaver is also effective as the no-nonsense leader who tactfully balances her group between idealism and pragmatism. In case of several other substantial cast members in the film, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards and John Magaro fill their respective supporting roles with enough life and personality, and the special mention goes to Wunmi Mosaku, who was wonderful in Netflix movie “His House” (2020) and demonstrates more of her talent and presence here in this film despite her under-developed supporting character.

“Call Jane” is the first feature film of director Phyllis Nagy, who previously received an Oscar nomination for her adapted screenplay for Todd Haynes’ “Carol” (2015). Compared to that great film, “Call Jane” is less impressive, and I think it could be better in several aspects, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its good elements besides its important social issue. Considering how the American society fails to protect women’s reproductive rights even at present, the movie is surely timely to say the least, and it will probably make you reflect more on that.

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