SYNOPSIS: Chicago, 1968. As a city and the nation are poised on the brink of violent political upheaval, suburban housewife Joy leads an ordinary life with her husband and daughter. When Joy’s (Elizabeth Banks) pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. Her journey to find a solution to an impossible situation leads her to the “Janes,” a clandestine organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process, change her life. [Source: Sundance Institute]
Phyllis Nagy’s conception of the story of the “Janes” is an empathetic narrative involving the desperate underground pre-Roe world of abortions. The cinematography and stylizing choices immediately set the nostalgic stage of prim and proper women in the kitchen and the man coming home to the smell of dinner and a drink immediately placed in his hand. Nagy revealed the film was shot on film, which lent itself to the late 1960s feel was a “forgiving” due to the tight 23-day physical production schedule.
Banks is a perfect casting choice for the lead role of Joy. She exquisitely and confidently navigates the line between Joy outwardly portraying the role of the conservative and perfect housewife and having ambitions to effectuate change. It is later revealed that Joy is actually a Democrat. However, she was coaxed, or rather bullied, into coming to terms with her liberal views by the founding “Jane,” Virginia (Sigourney Weaver).
Joy seeks out an abortion from the “Janes” due to a life-threatening illness which would most certainly cause her death if she were to endure childbirth. During the procedure, the “doctor,” Dr. Dean (who is later revealed to not having a license or medical degree) is cold and extremely unsympathetic to his patient. Banks aptly depicts the uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden moment the cold speculum is inserted. As the film progresses, so does the bedside manner of Dr. Dean; after he recruits Joy to assist with a patient who is shaking to the point of threatening the safety of the procedure. Joy soon learns to perform the abortion procedure so that women who cannot afford the cost of the abortion ($600) can receive one for free.
The script, partially based on true events surrounding the Jane Collective, who provided thousands of abortions during a four-year period through their covert and precise mobilization, brilliantly and artfully examines the struggle and urgency of the women’s right, and need, to choose.
Initially screened on the eve of the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at the Sundance Film Festival, poses urgent questions about systemic barriers, the ever-shifting nature of politics, and the struggle for women to maintain control of their bodies. The film is timely and important considering the impending Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could limit a women’s right to a legal abortion after 15 weeks.