The Pitch: Conservative Chicago housewife Joy Griffin (Elizabeth Banks) is blissfully expecting her second child in 1968 when she begins experiencing dizzy spells and, one day, collapses while cooking dinner. At the hospital, she receives a grim diagnosis of cardiomyopathy that could result in heart failure if she remains pregnant.
But the hospital board quickly, unanimously declines to grant permission for a “therapeutic termination” of the pregnancy to save the mother’s life. (Veteran character actor Bruce MacVittie of The Sopranos and Million Dollar Baby has a small but memorable turn as the cruelly indifferent hospital director, one of his final roles before his death in May.) A receptionist cheerfully suggests, “Just fall down a staircase, it worked for me.” Going home and standing atop her stairs, Joy contemplates that desperate measure in a brief but viscerally suspenseful scene.
Soon after, she lays eyes on a fortuitous poster: “Pregnant? Anxious? Get help! Call Jane 555-0144.” A group of activists offering illegal abortions, led by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), saves Joy’s life, and soon she’s drawn into their orbit, helping other women in need.
Call Jane is a fictionalized story of the real Jane Collective that operated in Chicago in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But the context around the Call Jane has shifted significantly since it was filmed a year ago, or even since February, when Roadside Attractions picked up the film following its premiere at Sundance. Instead of a snapshot of life just before Roe v. Wade, Call Jane now offers a stark look at what American woman are up against after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June.
Broad Strokes: Phyllis Nagy, an accomplished playwright, received an Oscar nomination for writing the 2015 Todd Haynes film Carol, and two Emmy nominations for writing and directing the 2006 HBO movie Mrs. Harris. But Call Jane is the first theatrical feature directed by Nagy, and it establishes her as a skilled stylist with a light touch.
Shooting the period piece on 16mm film helps Nagy capture the era without calling too much attention to the hair and fashion. And her use of music is creative, seamlessly transitioning from a non-diegetic soundtrack of Vanity Fare’s “Early in the Morning” in one scene to the song playing on a character’s car radio in the next.