Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Call Jane is an all too important film in today’s society, mixing political messaging and historical drama with great ease, brought to life by a great cast and a career best performance from Elizabeth Banks.
Ever since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, granting each state the legislative power to make their own laws regarding abortion, it felt like we went back in time. And that is the exact time setting of Call Jane: a pre Roe v Wade United States of America where abortion was not legal by choice, but could only be approved by a panel of doctors for medical reasons. The story is told from the perspective of Joy, portrayed by Elizabeth Banks, a traditional housewife who encounters potentially life threatening complications in her pregnancy. But after applying to have a legal abortion, her petition is denied by a group of men more concerned about the life of the unborn child than her own life. This leads Jane down a dangerous path searching for a way to terminate her pregnancy, until she comes across an underground network of women taking personal risk to provide safe abortions to women in needs.
The film’s first act balances humour with horror as you watch Joy be denied where abortion by a room full of male doctors, talking about her like she isn’t present, or other doctors, strictly off the record, suggesting ways for her to end her own pregnancy. It’s comical because of the absurdity of the scene, while at the same time heartbreaking watching her struggle for her own survival. These events lead her to searching out an illegal abortion, which creates two truly nerve wracking sequences. First, being the sketchy abortion clinic where you can tell from the look of it that women have died there, as you hold your breathe hoping that Joy will find another way. The second is Joy’s abortion with the Janes, as it’s an emotionally charged sequence that plays out the majority of the process, allowing the audience to feel Joy’s every emotion throughout as she makes one of the most difficult choices of her life.
After that, the film turns into an fascinating and uplifting drama as you watch Joy join the Janes and the fight for safe abortions for women. It’s a pivot in tone of the film, going from an emotionally draining drama that bordered on horror at times, to an uplifting but tense drama as you watched the women in the film push boundaries while risking their personal freedoms. It’s a great screenplay that effectively shows but does not force the political messaging of the film, instead showing the importance of safe abortion clinics by the positive effects it has on the women in the film.
While the film does end abruptly, rushing the ramifications of what the Janes helped set into motion that could have been explored further for a few scenes to show the true effects of their work, there is no denying the uplifting feeling that occurs in the final moments of the film. But at the same time, its significance and importance is only heightened by the truly upsetting fact that what was achieved by these women has now been overturned, setting back society decades. It’s a tough story to bring to the screen, as you cannot for a second compromise the emotion of the story but want to make something that will speak to the masses, but director Phyllis Nagy finds that perfect balance and delivers a truly crowd pleasing film.
Though, it is the lead performance of Banks that is the shining star of the film. Banks has been known for years for her comedic roles, and has even dipped her toes into directing, but she gives the performance of her career as Joy. She is the star of the film, creating a warm and commanding presence in every scene. In the first act, Banks opens up the audience to her character’s struggle, allowing them to feel every emotional blow and tough choice through her facial expressions and body language. Then in the second and third act, Banks takes her character on a journey of self development, transforming Joy from a dotting housewife to a law defiant yet caring woman looking out for her gender. Banks has never shown such depth or vulnerability before with her performances, and her range is unmatched in this film, making her the film’s biggest asset.
Sigourney Weaver is excellent as Virgina, the woman in charge of the Janes. For decades, Weaver has been portraying strong women and breaking barriers, making her the only choice for the role. Her no nonsense attitude is perfect for Virgina, generating some great laughs, while Weaver’s age and wisdom helps her transform into this leader. As a duo, Banks and Weaver are unstoppable, creating great moments of tension while their characters’ differing views clash and moments of true inspiration as they defy the law and lead this incredible group of women. The rest of the supporting cast is great, with all of them giving solid performances, but there is no distracting from the powerhouse performances of Banks and Weaver. While they may not be at the top of the awards lists for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Banks and Weaver both deserve to be in the discussion this awards season as they give two of the best performances of the year to date.
Even days after seeing the film, the film has stuck with me because in a world where women’s reproductive rights are sadly and unjustly uncertain, there is no better film to remind you of their importance than Call Jane. Anchored by an absolutely dazzling Elizabeth Banks who becomes the beating heart of the film in a career best performance, Call Jane is a magnificent film that is not just incredibly enjoyable, but one of the most important films of the year.