Elizabeth Banks in Phyllis Nagy’s Sundance Abortion Drama – The Hollywood Reporter


An invigorating and intimate vision of a historical moment less distant than we think, Call Jane opens with a brilliant sequence that begins in a posh Chicago hotel, where an elegantly dressed woman walks away from her husband’s business. As the camera follows her down the hall, her blonde bun is reminiscent of another movie character, Kim Novak in fear of heights — a woman under the control of men, if any. By contrast, Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is a hardy, cheerful suburbanite who runs a house and helps her husband with his legal cases, and she would never describe herself as being under anyone’s thumb. Then a medical emergency makes it starkly clear that, according to the laws of the United States, his life is not entirely his own.

Call Jane is the story of a fictional character’s life-changing involvement in the Jane Collective, an underground service that offered safe abortions to women while they were still illegal. It takes its title from the message printed on flyers posted in Chicago in the late 1960s and early 1970s, sheets of paper that announced an open secret and offered salvation to women with no other options. The band’s courage and compassion are explored in another Sundance selection, the documentary The Janes. (One of the figures profiled in the doc, Judith Arcane, is credited here as a research consultant.) The two films would make an inspirational double feature – and, if the Supreme Court overturns the 1973 ruling that rendered the Janes useless, they could also serve as primers in reproductive justice. .

Call Jane

The essential

A beautifully crafted portrait of ladies on fire.

Place: Sundance Film Festival (previews)

To throw: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, John Magaro

Director: Phyllis Nagy

Screenwriters: Hayley Schore, Roshan Sethi

2 hours 1 minute

The Janes tells a shared story, and certainly the power of collaboration and a shared sense of urgency Call Jane. But drama usually requires a protagonist, and Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi’s screenplay gives us a compelling one in Joy, with Banks delivering her most complex and moving feature performance in years.

While the script might hit a point or two rather neatly on the head, Carol screenwriter Nagy, at the helm of her first theatrical film (she led a star-studded cast in the 2005 TV movie Mrs Harris), constructs a subtle and moving sense of time and place, with nods to ’70s indie cinema. Character-driven design contributions from Jona Tochet and Julie Weiss are infused with a period palette lived, touches of dynamism included. A refreshing soundtrack of ’60s rock and funk blends well with the action, and Isabella Summers’ eloquent score delivers alarming highs and suspenseful percussive riffs, emphasizing the feeling of upheaval, danger of life or death and galvanic optimism that we feel through Joy’s eyes.

Banks, who memorably played Laura Bush in W, has a knack for penetrating beneath the carefully groomed surface of characters that some people would write off based on their politics or looks. She embodies the restless intelligence and paradox of Joy, who becomes a key member of a revolutionary enterprise while keeping up appearances in a well-heeled Republican suburb.

In the scenes that open the film, Joy’s husband, Will (Chris Messina), celebrates being made a partner in her law firm. Elsewhere in the city, the Democratic National Convention is underway, not mentioned but signaled by the headline “August 1968” appearing on the screen, and by the Yippie protest outside the hotel. We hear the demonstrators but do not see them; it is Joy’s reaction that interests Nagy. She is shaken by the bustle, but also drawn to the energy and passion of it, to the idea of ​​a world in motion. On the drive home, the words “changing” and “current” flash in her comments to Will.

When he pulls their sedan into the driveway at the end of their evening, Joy waits for him to open his car door; for a woman of her generation and upbringing, that is how things are. And yet, something tugs at the edges of this conformity. by Betty Friedan The feminine mystic hit the cultural conversation a few years before this story began, and a few years later a women’s collective in Boston would publish Our bodies, ourselves. Joy’s widowed neighbor, Lana (Kate Mara, stunning), bed Diary of a Mad Housewife, albeit through a veil of doctor-prescribed pills and afternoon cocktails. (In another echo of fear of heights, Lana’s daughter asks Joy if she “went blonde” for her husband.)

Maybe Joy is thinking about changing the currents because she’s pregnant with her second child. The way she dances to a Velvet Underground album from the collection of her 15-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Grace Edwards), signals that she’s about to wake up. She arrives with a devastating blow: life-threatening medical complications if she continues with the pregnancy, but the law forbids her to terminate it. She must seek permission from the hospital board for a therapeutic abortion. Unsurprising fact number one: the board members are all men. Number two: They say no.

Will is the kind of right-handed guy who doesn’t want to pull strings with the medical establishment, fearing it will jeopardize his credibility and his career. After trying a few unsatisfying options that lead her to an abortionist’s filthy apartment, which she flees, Joy comes across a bus stop flyer that urges the anxious pregnant woman to “call Jane.”

And yes, it’s a story that focuses its outrage on social injustice through the prism of a privileged figure and the “it can happen to anyone, even a lawyer’s white wife” angle. But Nagy, Schore and Sethi recognize this, and the fact that the abortion ban has disproportionately affected poor, black or brown women. Questions of race and class burst to the surface of the film during a brief but charged debate between Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku), the sole black member of the Janes, and Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), the imperious and passionately devoted leader. of the group.

Virginia and Joy could compete in terms of skill and determination. But the former, a die-hard grassroots activist, knows how to navigate life on the other side of the law, as shown in a shocking exposition amid otherwise nuanced dialogue. The two women meet right after Joy’s abortion, in one of the collective’s apartments, where Joy is offered a comforting blanket and bowl of spaghetti as well as friendly, irreverent banter and her first taste of bohemian descent. 1960s.

Played without an ounce of sentimentality by Weaver, Virginia has a way to get what she wants, and once she’s sure Joy is cured, she forces her to help another client. One such favor leads to another, then a total commitment, Joy’s increasingly frequent absences in the evenings, attributed to the “art class”, naturally arousing the suspicions of Will, and Charlotte in particular. Played with a deadpan sensibility reminiscent of Alia Shawkat, Charlotte doesn’t always follow as a character, until you recognize she’s a conflicted teenage girl who may have a defiant streak but is still largely immune to it. and confused by the turbulent times she matures.

Unlike many people in her situation, Joy is curious about the political mood rather than repelled by it. And she finds purpose with the Janes, eventually becoming the de facto assistant to Dean (Cory Michael Smith), the man who performs abortions for the group’s clients. An unlikely combination of boyish bowl cut and over-the-top swagger, he’s an unsettling and fascinating character, more committed to the money he makes than the cause of women. Smith is one of three relatively unknown actors in the cast, the others being Edwards and a formidable Mosaku, who make an impact in key supporting roles. The director moves away from Joy’s point of view for a beautifully acted scene between Smith and Weaver, their characters negotiating a business deal over shots of vodka.

As for the abortions themselves, Nagy and cinematographer Greta Zozula focus on the vulnerability, not to mention the metal instruments involved. There’s a jaw-dropping moment when Joy, mid-procedure, having finally found a safe solution to her life-threatening situation, blurts out to Dean, “I’m scared!” Keeping the film grounded in character, Nagy eloquently reminds us at every turn that what has been labeled a crime is a medical procedure, and underscores how personal it all is for women.

Along the way, and not without humor, Joy learns to reject her judgmental assumptions about Jane’s clients. The devoted Virginia is his guide on this front, and like Virginia, the film refrains from being judgmental. Dean, for all his flaws, is also a lifesaver and was never seen as a villain. Will is a good guy, even if he has blinders on and is old school. “Did something happen today?” he asks a fiery Joy above the dinner table. If he knew. Messina exploits his character’s sensitivity as well as his ignorance, and a few scenes between him and Mara’s sad-eyed Lana are jaw-dropping depictions of messy, awkward decency and grace. Even an undercover detective (John Magaro) who confronts Joy near the end of the film defies stereotypes.

We know the accomplishments and victories of the era portrayed by Nagy, and yet, because she and her beautiful cast bring the story to such vivid and immediate life, the final moments of Call Jane are powerful with unexpected joy. They also sting, because we know where we are now and the trajectory of the intervening years.


Comments are closed.