Renowned playwright and theater scriptwriter, Phyllis Nagy has taken her time making the jump to celluloid. With a first contact with a television project, ‘Mrs. Harris’, she co-wrote the acclaimed ‘Carol’, one of Todd Haynes’ most lauded feature films. Now, the American artist, who has worked for the most important theaters on Broadway and the West End, makes his debut as a filmmaker with the didactic ‘We are all Jane’, presented at the 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival and whose commercial premiere in the United States just coincided in time with the reversal of the historic ruling Roe vs. Wade.
And it is that ‘We are all Jane’ talks about the Jane Collective, an underground women’s network that operated in ChicagoIllinois, and who was affiliated with the Women’s Liberation Union in Chicago, operating between 1969 and 1973, ending just after the Supreme Court decision on the case Rose v. Wade, which in practice legalized abortion throughout the country (and which is now repealed, allowing each state in the United States to legislate according to its own criteria on the termination of pregnancy). Its mission was to ensure that women seeking to interrupt their pregnancy could do so in safe conditions.
Although a more complex debut was expected from Nagy, who was behind that film gem called ‘Carol’, the author opts for a didactic story, in which the message prevails and the tone is clearly feel-good. With a script by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, it is a film with a protest tone, which shows the empowerment of women in the the 60s, right in the years of the French Major and the beginning of the revolts and the fight for social rights of different groups and, of course, the explosion of the wave of the feminist movement.
The plot begins in how Joy, an ideal housewife, leading a conventional life with a husband and a teenage daughter, unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Although, initially, it may seem like good news, misfortune will appear in the family union when Joy is diagnosed with a heart problem that can lead to death if the pregnancy is successful. In other words: either abort or die. However, the medical commission forces her to have the child, since the termination of pregnancy is illegal.
Great performances and aesthetic mime
In this way, Joy is introduced to the Jane Collective and thus begins the transformation of an ideal housewife, with a dream life and far from the political turmoil of the time, into a feminist woman who fights for her rights and that ends up living a spirit of feminine fraternity. The way in which the tape develops its plot is conventional and cinematically unambitious. On the contrary, he manages to make his message easy to understand for the mass public.
‘We are all Jane’ does not differ much from films like ‘Maids and Ladies’, ‘Hidden Figures’ or ‘A Question of Gender’. Now, there is an important element that Nagy does not neglect and, moreover, elevates the film: its technical aspect. His photography manages to transport the public to the 60s. Work by Greta Zozula, The tape was shot on Kodak 16mm, which gives it that vintage look with which Nagy shows an aesthetic affinity that makes it akin to the style of Todd Hayneswho paid tribute to Douglas Sirk in ‘Far from heaven’ and of which there were reminiscences in ‘Carol’.
And this is where Nagy reminds us that even the most conventional and didactic cinema is still cinema. An essential aspect that elevates the final result of ‘We are all Jane’, together with the fact of having an incredible cast, with a wonderful Elizabeth Banks, who knows how to convey the process of emancipation of her character. A round of applause for Sigourney Weaver, who in recent years has been pulling off fabulous mentor figure roles. Along with commendable performances by Cory Michael Smith, Wunmi Mosaku, Chris Messina or Kate Mara, This debut, although archetypal, is remarkable and shows that care and attention to detail is essential.
The best: Its technical section is exquisite and the delivery of Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver.
Worst: It wouldn’t have been bad for it to be a more ambitious production, it lacks punch, despite its message.