Call Jane review | Elizabeth Banks shines in abortion drama

Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane is both a rousing cry for women to be allowed to control their own bodies and a victim of white feminism. 

call jane elizabeth banks


It’s sad that Call Jane, a film set in 1968, still feels so painfully relevant and timely in 2022. Set in a time before Roe v. Wade, now overturned by US Surpreme Court, Call Jane feels both like an unnerving reminder of what was and what might be again. 

Pregnant housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks, better than ever) faints one day and learns she suffers from a dangerous heart condition. The treatment? Not to be pregnant. Even though she has 50% chance she’ll die during childbirth, she is denied an abortion by a room full of men. 

Joy considers throwing herself down some stairs and even seeks out a dodgy illegal abortion clinic, but chickens out. She is then contacted by the Janes, an organisation which helps women with safe abortions. 

call jane

Credit: Vertigo Releasing

Call Jane isn’t just a film about Joy needing an abortion. Call Jane isn’t even a film about abortions really. It’s a film about female solidarity, compassion, and companionship. These women are all united by the fact that they are unable to get medical care and that their bodies are ruled over by a bunch of old farts in a conference room. 

Phyllis Nagy, who both writes and directs here, is perhaps best known as the writer of Carol. Like Carol, Call Jane is restrained, but never subdued. The message is loud and clear; keep your paws off women’s bodies. The Janes were a very real organisation even if the story of Call Jane is fictional and, as a woman, it’s hard not to weep just from the madness of needing an organisation like the Janes in the first place. 

The smartest thing Nagy does with Call Jane is to never frame abortion as a medical necessity; not all the women Joy ends up helping need an abortion because their life is in danger if they don’t get one. Joy comes to appreciate and understand the multitude of reasons why someone would have an abortion. 

Yet, Call Jane is also a victim of white feminism. Although Wunmi Mosaku provides excellent support as a fellow Jane, Gwen, Call Jane is mostly told through the eyes of white women. That combined with the time period makes the film appear a little naive. 

call jane wunmi mosaku

Credit: Vertigo Releasing

Nagy’s film often also lacks stakes. The Janes operate in secrecy, but it’s never communicated properly why it is so dangerous. It might be obvious, but a film like this needs to make it visual too and that’s where Call Jane fumbles. 

The performances in the film, however, sell the threat even if it’s not visually communicated. Banks is exemplary, especially in the beginning when she’s uncertain and scared. Her abortion scene is brilliantly staged and directed, with loud noises and bright lights. Sigourney Weaver is also convincing as the leader of the Janes, loosely modelled after the real founder of the Jane Collective. 

Banks’ committed performance and the timely subject matter are what keep Nagy’s film truly afloat. It may be because of a consequence but because of the events of last summer, Call Jane feels vital and urgent, desperately needed even. 

Call Jane is in cinemas November 4.

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