Call Jane review: Looking back at Roe Vs Wade in the #MeToo era
From Director Phylis Nagy (Carol, Mrs Harris), Call Jane is a fictional narrative based on an illegal abortion network of women in the 1960s, who called themselves “The Janes”. Although Call Jane is a critical look back at darker times the unavailability of abortions is still a widespread problem for many Americans. After the reversal of the Roe v. Wade agreement earlier this year, the right to an abortion is under threat in the US. This film could not be released at a more apt time.
The film follows housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks) as she finds out that reaching full term on her pregnancy may result in her death. Joy pleads for a medically approved “therapeutic abortion”, but is denied. In an act of desperation, she turns towards the world of underground illegal abortions, before stumbling on an organisation of women called “Jane”. Run by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), they perform safe abortions and provide care for the after-effects (which incongruously includes a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese).
Call Jane is undoubtedly heart-warming as Nagy focuses on the importance of female empowerment and sisterhood. Joy soon finds herself part of the organisation and finds solace in their company, she is encouraged by them to achieve more beyond her role as a housewife. Call Jane is reminiscent of the mini-series Mrs. America (2020), also starring Banks, which dramatizes the events of the unsuccessful movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
At times, Call Jane felt like a romanticised version of the events. The story is told from Joy’s perspective, who, as a privileged white woman, perpetuates white feminism and a white saviour syndrome. When faced with the price of the abortion (a staggering $600) Joy doesn’t bat an eyelid, whereas many other women would never have been able to afford it.
The film does try to acknowledge these issues of white privilege within the organisation. Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku) points out she is the only Black woman in the organisation, and rallies to prioritize Black women for free abortions. Other intersectional problems arise as to who groups should be prioritised and whether it should be victims of sexual assault, children, or to choose randomly.
Although the organisation is illegal and could result in incarceration for the characters, the stakes in Call Jane never seem too high. Joy seems more worried that her husband and daughter will find out than the police. Even as she becomes increasing involved, there never seems to be any real sense that they will be found out.
The film ultimately ends with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, effectively legalising abortion so the organisation can continue legally. Virginia finally asks Joy “what should we do next?” – a timely reminder for the audience that the history of human rights is not a linear progression.
Call Jane is in cinemas now.