Sundance Premiere: “Call Jane”

Phyllis Nagy’s entertaining and provocative “Call Jane” is a film that is urgent and important to what is happening in today’s America. It is a film about the right for women to choose what to do with their own bodies and how our actions regarding personal choice will echo through generations.

Set in 1968 Chicago, Nagy’s film (written by Haley Schore and Roshan Sethi) focuses on members of “The Jane Collective”, a group of women who helped other women who were turning to abortion as a last resort during a time when the procedure was illegal in the United States.

A better than ever Elizabeth Banks portrays as Joy, a “traditional housewife” who is refused an abortion that she seeks due to worries about her health. She falls into “The Janes” and begins working with them, changing her life forever.

Sigourney Weaver brings her undeniable dignity to the role of “Virginia”, the head of the collective. Her character is strong-willed and pushes hard for the doctor (a solid Cory Michael Smith) to do more abortions for less money, as most of the women do not have the funds to meet his prices. These women deserve to be treated fairly and Virginia fights hard for them. Weaver plays her effortlessly with determination and a steadfast attitude.

Banks is quite fascinating as we watch her character’s rise from somewhat passive wife to a major member of The Janes. Joy begins to give the women safe rides to their procedures, eventually sitting with them to make them feel more comfortable on the operating table. Her bonding with the abortion doctor along with her increasing self-reliance makes Joy’s arc captivating.

The supporting cast does very well, especially Wunmi Mosaku as Gwen, an outspoken member of The Janes who, as a woman of color, is fighting many battles in 1968 America.

Nagy’s film sidesteps a preachy tone, presenting the importance of the subject matter with a straightforward telling of events. It is critical that people understand the dangers (physically, legally, and emotionally) that women went through during the time before abortion was legalized. The film and its characters expertly make clear the weight of the issue.

The moments where Nagy takes us inside the abortion room are at once unsettling and moving. One can only imagine what women must go through in a time such as this. That some of these scenes find a tenderness is a credit to the director, the screenwriters, and to the gifted performers.

The film is guided by a great collection of songs from female artists. Musicians such as Nancy Sinatra, Janis Ian, Malvina Reynolds, Liz McCall, Gloria Parker, and Jennifer Warnes create a feminist troubadour chorus that brings the film’s message alive.

This important work should spark conversations, not debates. The issue of abortion should be cut and dried. Who are men to tell women what to do with their bodies? Is the “argument” that simple? Indeed, it is. Nagy’s work pleads for an intersexual understanding on a national level. The director and her cast make their case with empathy care and understanding.

“Call Jane” is the film this broken country needs. It is a film of sisterhood and hope; one that is as strong as the women who risked it all and fought hard for individual choice and equality. These brave souls changed America.

In 2022, their voices are still strong. The fight is even stronger.

Call Jane

Directed by Phillis Nagy

Screenplay by Haley Schore & Roshan Sethi

Starring Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Wunmi Mosaku, Kate Mara, Chris Messina

NR, 121 Minutes, Ingenious Media, LB Entertainment