Film review: Phyllis Nagy's "Call Jane" | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 28th, 2022  

Call Jane

Studio: Ingenious
Director: Phyllis Nagy

Jan 26, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane is an abortion-centered drama that cannot convincingly balance fictional storytelling and historical context.

Set in the late 1960s, the film follows Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a pregnant housewife who discovers that she is suffering from congestive heart failure, caused by her pregnancy. After learning that continuing with the pregnancy will likely kill her, she appeals to the hospital to authorize an emergency abortion. After her request is denied, she is forced to search for alternative options. Her search leads her to the Jane Collective, a group of women fighting for abortion rights and performing safe abortions for those in need.

Although Joy initially comes to the group as a patient, the film quickly changes direction after her operation. With the aid of the group’s charismatic leader, Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), Joy slowly begins to participate in more of the group’s activities. What starts as her reluctantly driving patients to the group’s makeshift apartment room office soon turns into her helping across all sectors of the group, including assisting the doctor during procedures. As helping the Collective begins to eat up more and more of her time, tensions begin to broil between her, her husband (Chris Messina) and her daughter (Grace Edwards), both of whom are oblivious to what she is doing.

While Call Jane does highlight the goals, the work and the many lives helped by the Jane Collective, the film primarily focuses on showcasing Joy’s journey in the activist group. This decision works in consistently keeping the film focused, both narratively and thematically. At the same time, though, focusing solely on Joy’s hero arc makes the supporting characters feel like accessories to her journey, rather than their own individual personalities. In communicating a story on the Jane Collective, where each member was extremely imperative in maintaining the group’s order, limiting the film’s scope to just one character feels a bit distasteful.

Additionally, Call Jane suffers from a variety of pacing issues. Once Joy begins to work with the Jane Collective, the film moves from one event to another at a disorienting speed, rarely slowing down to address some of the more unbelievable narrative turns that take place. This issue also downplays many of the film’s conflicts, making extremely serious moments never seem as dire as they are meant to be. While the film does communicate many important messages and gives a generally well-rounded look at what the Jane Collective did, the quick-paced narrative structure often makes the general story feel superficial, and as a result, somewhat forgettable.

Overall, the film’s performances are generally mixed. In the film’s center role, Banks delivers a consistently grounded and captivating performance that truly brings her character to life. Unsurprisingly, Weaver’s performance is great as well, portraying her character’s authoritativeness in a strict and endearing way, depending on what the script calls for. Besides these two actors though, the rest of the ensemble isn’t particularly memorable. This is mainly attributable to their characters’ limited roles in the story, often not given enough screen time or speaking lines to stand out in a truly compelling way. (festival.sundance.org)

Author rating: 5/10

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