Dick and Jane
Call Jane (2022)
This is an important movie. It’s also a good movie. The acting is excellent and the story is relevant to today. It features big name stars. The writing is pretty good. The story is compelling. It was filmed largely in Hartford and West Hartford – my home town!
And I didn’t pay much attention to it. Shame on me.
I don’t really know why… perhaps because of its absolute singular focus. But I’m interested in that focus! The story is interesting! Oh well.
The premise of Call Jane is based on the real-life underground network called The Janes that provided access to safe abortions in the Chicago area in the years before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. The film centers on a conservative suburban white housewife named Joy (Elizabeth Banks), who, over the course of the film, finds herself seeking out an abortion, but also searching for new ideas about who she is and what she believes.
The movie feels creepy now in 2023. It was written before our current Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and was to be filmed before the pandemic as well. Alas, the pandemic happened, filming got pushed back, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and now the movie that takes place in the late 1960’s could be redone to take place in 2023. This country is crazy.
As far as the filming locations go, disbelief is well-suspended. While mostly shot in Hartford-as-Chicago, unless you knew this was shot in Hartford, you would not know it. I struggled to find obvious Hartford locations… and yes, that bothered me.
The story follows Jane’s personal journey, but brings in a wider context. Women. Income disparity. Healthcare. Government overreach. Religion. Culture upheaval. Family binds.
Pregnant at 40, Joy knows something’s not progressing properly in her uterus. It turns out the pregnancy has a very good chance of killing her, so she is thrust before a hospital board of dour old men who speak about her dire situation as if she’s not there. Symbolic, sure… but also the likely reality of the time. The board votes unanimously against an abortion and Joy’s family is turned inside out. Note: her husband’s name is Will and her teenage daughter’s name is Grace and those three name choices for these three characters in this movie annoyed me. A bit too on the nose… it’s a construct I’d have used in a 9th grade essay.
Joy sees a flier hinting at something to help with pregnancies. This is Joy’s entryway into the Jane Collective. Joy calls the number on the flier and after some second, third, and fourth guessing, a woman named Gwen picks her up, makes her put on a blindfold, and drives her to a location, where entryway is granted after a secret knock.
The “procedure” costs $600, and the doctor, Gwen informs Joy, has a horrible bedside manner but “he’s the best we’ve got.” The doctor lives up to his reputation and notes that the $600 is a lot cheaper than a child. Afterwards, Joy is blindfolded again and brought to another location, where she meets the rest of the “Janes.” The leader is Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), a battle-scarred veteran of all kinds of cultural and political wars. She is tough, practical, and practiced at negotiating with shady characters, including the Mob (who provide low rents for their secret locations as well as, presumably, protection).
The long scene showing Joy’s abortion plays out in almost real time: about 20 minutes. It’s raw. It’s emotional. It’s also saving her life and opening up a whole new world to Joy.
She winds up getting roped into helping the Janes, first as a shuttle driver, then as an organizer, an operating room attendant, and finally, as an actual abortion provider. (I don’t know how real this story is, and this isn’t the “coat hanger in an alley” type place; all the proper medical tools and aftercare are available here.)
Joy becomes entirely embedded with the Janes – while her husband is completely oblivious, thinking she’s always taking art classes as a way to deal with the grief of her “miscarriage.”
There’ a weird and poorly crafted side story of Will and Joy’s widowed neighbor who tries to put the moves on Will. There’s a weird – yet pivotal – scene where Sigourney Weaver tries to convince the doctor to lower his price. There’s an ambiguous scene where a cop let’s Joy know he’s on to her, but nothing comes of it.
But the movie generally stays focused on The Janes and what they mean to women in the Chicago area. It does not gloss over the emotional toll of abortion. It does not pretend it’s a snap of the fingers. It shows that women from all walks of life – conservative wealthy married middle aged women like Joy to destitute single moms in the projects.
The movie ends with the Roe v. Wade decisions and the happy disbanding of The Janes. It was there, in those final scenes, that a part of Hartford was finally on full display: The State Supreme Court!
My work is done here.
CTMQ Rating: 3 out of 5 thumbs up
Connecticutness: 55 out of 169 Nutmegs
Filmed in Connecticut? Yes
Wealthy Caucasian with a Big House? Not really