Founded by Heather Booth, The Jane Collective was an underground abortion service that operated in Chicago, Illinois from 1969 to 1973. At the time, termination of a pregnancy for any reason was still illegal in most of the US. As the story of The Janes has become depressingly relevant today, adaptations of the organization’s history have emerged with surprising frequency. The latest of which is Call Jane which takes the Suffragette approach of constructing fictionalized characters as our entry point into a real-life struggle.

Our primary entry point is Joy (Elizabeth Banks), the smart, considerate and obedient housewife to her conservative lawyer husband (Chris Messina). When Joy is told that her otherwise wanted pregnancy is likely to kill her she is given firsthand experience of how little the US healthcare system cares for her life. With nowhere else to turn she discovers The Janes who are able to provide Joy a clean, safe abortion and an opportunity to live a life she never thought possible.

It’s an incredibly rose-tinted look at the time in American history but has the charm and deftness of tone to pull it off. Banks is perfectly cast as the doe-eyed housewife with a secret radical streak. Her involvement with The Janes is consistently grounded in empathy with the women they care for. Even her biggest leap in attempting to perform abortions herself comes from a desire to help more desperate women. She makes a perfect foil for the group’s leader, the militant radical Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) whose desire to do good is at once bolstered and tainted by ego.

Virginia is every bit the stereotypical, bra-burning, feminist Marxist of the ’60s and ’70s and Weaver gives her all the oomph she deserves. All while rounding her out with a little bit of sauciness and a healthy dose of empathy. There’s an edge to her radicalism that suggests this is just the latest cause she’s taken up, raising the question of if she cares more about opposing authority than supporting the women. However, the film never confronts this. Indeed, there’s frighteningly little conflict throughout the entire film. Even her clashes with Gwen (the ever-underrated Wunmi Mosaku), the sole Black Jane, and her attempts to extend their help to pregnant women of colour, are little more than lip service.

Inevitably there must be consequences for Call Jane but they come in the most perfunctory manner. Joy’s husband and teenage daughter turn their backs on her, only for both to change their minds off-screen. The police try to entangle Joy in a sting operation, only for nothing to come of it. So with her character having waltzed through her arc unobstructed we can merrily skip to the concluding passage of Roe vs Wade (the Jane’s victory feeling somewhat undercut in 2022). The time jumped not helped by the sudden injection of an uncharacteristically saccharin narration by Virginia.

This badly botched conclusion doesn’t mean that Call Jane is not worth your time. It is a breezy, inoffensive set of Cliff Notes on an under-studied time in Feminist History. Banks, Weaver and Mosaku bounce off each other with a friendly, human repartee and director Phyllis Nagy has the skills to handle the material. She doesn’t shy away from the emotional weight of its subject matter but it’s at turns humane, funny and compelling.