Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2022: "Call Jane"

Several specific names are inextricably linked to the ongoing efforts to protect abortion rights here and elsewhere. In Canada, Dr. Henry Morgentaler is the name most likely to be cited, while in the States it would be the names of Roe and Wade. And, thanks to the Jane Collective, some might also know the name of Jane.

The Jane Collective was a feminist organization that was active in the Chicago area from 1969 to 1973, which worked clandestinely during those years to provide women with access to abortion, at a time when the procedure was illegal (the organization disbanded when the US Supreme Court made its historic Roe v Wade decision).

Recent events south of the Canada / US border have generated increased interest in the history of the fight to establish and protect abortion rights, which is why we now have Call Jane, a feature film directed by Phyllis Nagy, which dramatizes the inner workings of the Jane Collective (The Janes, a feature-length documentary on the Jane Collective, has also been playing the film festival circuit).

Elizabeth Banks plays Joy Griffin, a middle-class wife and mother whose pregnancy poses a severe risk to her own health (the severity of the risk is made evident by having her collapse on the floor of her kitchen while dancing with her teenage daughter to Velvet Underground). Joy’s doctor tells her that her pregnancy is endangering her life, and that the only option is to perform a “therapeutic termination.” “I still have so much to do,” Joy says, in shock, as she considers this.

In those days, for a legal abortion to be performed, the hospital’s board would have to review the case and rule whether or not to make an exception to hospital policy. As dramatized in Call Jane, Joy (wearing pearls, and carrying a plate of home-made cookies) attends the meeting of the hospital's board with her husband Will (played by Chris Messina). Joys listens as the board (all men) discuss her case (speaking of her in the third person throughout)—before voting “No.” Incensed at this treatment, Joy leaves, taking her plate of cookies with her. This hospital board decision, of course, is what sets Joy on a course to seek out—and to eventually become a key part of—the Jane Collective.

The main weakness with Call Jane is that it can’t seem to make up its mind whether to tackle the thorny topic of abortion rights with a light touch or with a heavy hand. In the end the scales tip too far in the direction of the lighter touch, which feels like a missed opportunity. The story of the Jane Collective is indeed a fascinating one, but if you go to see Call Jane hoping to be galvanized, or to witness some kind of rallying call to renewed activism, then you’d better look elsewhere.

There are two in-theatre screenings of Call Jane as part of VIFF 2022, on Sunday, October 2 at the Rio Theatre, and on Saturday, October 8 at the Playhouse. See here for more information on the film. You can view a trailer for Call Jane here.



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