With a conservative-heavy Supreme Court and noises about outlawing abortion emanating from America’s right, now seems like a good time for a film to spell out quite how hard-fought female reproductive rights were back in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the tension-free Call Jane is not that film.
That’s not the fault of Elizabeth Banks, who shifts comfortably from comedy to more dramatic terrain as Joy, a Chicago woman with a heart condition who is denied a potentially life-saving abortion by a panel of male doctors.
With all other avenues closeed to her, she calls ‘Jane’, an anonymous underground termination service the number for which she finds on a flyer. There, she endures a cold and clinical procedure at the hands at the ever-so-slightly creepy male doctor (Cory Michael Smith), and warmth and camaraderie (and spaghetti) from Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku’s (His House) dedicated activists and their team of volunteers.
They are all ‘Jane’, and soon Joy is too – leading a double life which her lawyer husband (Chris Messina) is oblivious to but which gradually arouses the suspicions of her daughter (Evangeline Young).
You know the stakes are high but Call Jane never seems interested in proving it
Director Phyllis Nagy, whose Oscar-nominated screenplay for Patricia Highsmith’s Carol draw electrical charge from its every snatched utterance, can’t locate a spark in this true-life story. While her love of her female characters is obvious, the world of the Janes is hermetically sealed off from the multitude of perils beyond its wall. While you know the stakes are high, Call Jane never seems particularly interested in proving it.
The best and most eloquent scene comes early in that encounter with the medical board. As Joy endures a group of chain-smoking male doctors playing god with her life, the film evokes a fury and urgency that is soon lost in the cosiness to come. More of that would have fired up this low-key drama.
Call Jane premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.