When the film works, it’s often because Banks confidently carries so much of it on her own shoulders.
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Call Jane is a competently made, well-acted historical drama that doesn’t give its charged subject matter the stakes or urgency it needs.
While Call Jane might suffer from a litany of the usual first film missteps — a tricky tone often hobbles it, as does a bent toward gliding over history in service of telling a singular story — Nagy’s affection and respect for women is a strong fit for the material. And Banks, who has stealthily proven her ability in a variety of genres, both in front of and behind the camera, turns in a career-best performance as Joy, a woman who is about to undergo a shift of her own.
The female empowerment message comes through loud and clear in “Call Jane,” especially in Banks’ performance. What’s missing from the picture is the threat of discovery, the dangling sword of Damocles that might chasten anyone taking so much responsibility on themselves.
At its richest and most riveting, when it’s seizing your breath or making you laugh or opening your eyes, Call Jane is about what it takes to come to that realization about true liberation, and what it means to see it through.
We know the achievements and victories of the era Nagy depicts, and yet, because she and her fine cast bring the story to such vivid, immediate life, the final moments of Call Jane are powerful with unanticipated joy.
Director Phyllis Nagy has crafted a subdued but affecting portrait of that time, strengthened by deft performances from Elizabeth Banks as a sheltered suburban mother whose eyes are opened and Sigourney Weaver as the leader of an underground abortion-facilitation service.
Without giving in to bromides, the cha-cha, surprisingly feel-good rhythms of Nagy’s direction make this heroine's sudden sense of purpose rather exhilarating.