Movies don’t get much more timely than Ask for Jane, director Rachel Carey’s earnest, fact-based feature film debut about a group of young college women in pre-Roe v. Wade Chicago who formed the Jane Collective, an underground organization that defied current laws and risked criminal prosecution to help women with unwanted pregnancies secure safe medical abortions.
The two primary “Janes” — Rose (Cait Cortelyou) and Janice (Cody Horn) — start by helping a friend whose chance at a college education and a better life will be lost if she has to leave school to have a baby.
Their network expands as they realize just how many women — old and young, black and white — are desperate for access to safe terminations. Soon, Rose and Janice enlist others to their cause and begin to understand their responsibility as advocates for women’s rights in general.
Ask for Jane isn’t a glossy, high-budget affair with A-list stars; it’s a true indie, with production values to match. Carey’s script (based on an idea by Cortelyou) doesn’t always flow perfectly, and some of the performances lack subtlety. But the story that Ask for Jane has to tell is vitally important — especially now, when women’s legal right to abortion is again under vicious attack.
One of the film’s particularly powerful moments is a sequence in which we meet several of the the Janes’ clients and are reminded that this is an issue that truly faces women in all walks of life.
Ask for Jane reminds both women and men that we can never take our rights for granted — and that fights we thought were behind us have a way of cropping back up again. Everyone involved in the film seems fully committed to sharing this brave, timely story with the world, and that’s fully compelling. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
MaryAnn Johanson This is an absolutely essential film for our increasingly desperate times: a reminder of just what women (and men!) have to lose if we go back to a time in which safe abortion is outlawed or otherwise unavailable. Far too many people, including far too many women young enough not to remember how dire the reality was, simply do not understand what is at stake. *Ask for Jane* depicts, with a clear-eyed straightforwardness, the bravery of the women of the Jane Collective, who organized to ensure that women who needed abortions could get them safely. But also plain here is the bravery of the women seeking abortions themselves, who risked their freedom, their health, and even their lives to ensure better futures for themselves and, in some instances, the child they already had. There is a compassion here for women, and an understanding of the difficult choices that women make, that is often missing from pop culture and from mainstream discourse. A movie like this one can change minds and hearts, for the better.
Marilyn Ferdinand: As a legal showdown over the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion looms, a modest, low-budget film from a first-time director reminds us of what life was like before Roe v. Wade. Ask for Jane tells the story of the Jane Collective, a Chicago-based abortion service that operated in the shadows from 1969 to 1973 to provide safe abortions to women before Roe made their work unnecessary. Read full review.
Pam Grady: Timing is everything and the time for Ask for Jane is perfect, though one guesses that first-time feature director Rachel Carey wishes that weren’t so. In a drama stuffed with detail, Carey weaves the fact-based story of Chicago’s Jane collective, everyday women who, in the years before Roe v. Wade made abortion in the United States legal, risk their own freedom so that other women can end their pregnancies without resorting to back alleys, knitting needles, bicycle spokes, or rat poison. Read full review.
Leslie Combemale Ask for Jane was created as a passion project by Planned Parenthood advocate and producer/actor Cait Cortelyou, who then hired writer/director Rachel Carey to help bring it to the screen. There’s no question you can see their commitment in every scene. Though filmed on a micro-budget, the production rings true, and the acting is solid. The story is based on the real history of the Jane Collective, which is why we can overlook the occasions when it veers into sentimentality. With the erosion of women’s bodily autonomy in the hands of the anti-choice right wing, it is a perfectly timed reminder of what we left behind. The message is that we can’t go back. The terrifying happenings in our country are as wrong-headed now as they were at the time during which this film takes place. Those who have forgotten about, have become apathetic about, or didn’t live through the dangers of pre-Roe-v-Wade America will find Ask for Jane an eye-opening call to action.
Loren King The group of young women at the heart of the film are a cross-section of the mostly young women who began to embrace women’s liberation and to see reproductive rights as central to it. As their commitment and their activism deepens, out of necessity and out of personal experience, they grow as characters. So does the viewer’s investment in each one of them. Read full review.
Sheila Roberts In her feature directorial debut, Ask for Jane, filmmaker Rachel Carey crafts a riveting story (co-written with Cait Cortelyou) about an earlier generation of women who fought for the right to control their bodies when abortions were still illegal, and unsafe and reliable medical care was hard to find. Read full review.
Marina Antunes At a time when women’s rights over their own bodies are under attack (again), Rachel Carey’s Ask for Jane, which provides history and insight into Chicago’s Jane Collective, is essential viewing. While the production is clearly indie and a little rough around the edges, Ask for Jane resonates emotionally and the message it delivers is as powerful today as it was when the Jane Collective was active: women will continue to help each other, no matter the cost.
Jennifer Merin Rachel Carey’s Ask For Jane is a narrative drama that could not be more timely. The truth-based story centers on the Jane Collective, an underground group of Chicago co-eds who helped their peers and other women to terminate unwanted pregnancies during the late 1960 and early 70s, at a time when the law defined abortion as murder. Believing in a woman’s right to choose, the Janes put their own lives on the line, risking serious jail time, in their commitment to the cause, to guiding women through a most difficult decision and to providing them with safe and reliable medical care. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: Ask For Jane, about a group of female college students in Chicago who set up an underground collective to help other women get safe abortions in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s before Roe v. Wade became law isn’t exactly a piece of art. It feels slightly like an issue-oriented TV movie from the era that it is trying to depict with Joni Mitchell on the soundtrack and a pseudo hippie vibe. Still, given the current backwards movement in several states that negate a women’s right to choose, it is an important movie despite its underwhelming aesthetics. At least director and writer Rachel Carey avoids being too overtly earnest in her approach while the cast pretty much carries the day, including Cody Horn (Magic Mike), Sarah Steele (The Good Fight), Alison Wright (The Americans) and Ben Rappaport (Outsourced). I wish the film sooner addressed the fact why the activists initially involved and those they helped were all white before the hour mark. But no matter its flaws, this is a little-known story that needs to be known and told.
Cate Marquis Director Rachel Carey couldn’t have known how timely this drama would be but it certainly is that. Ask for Jane is a modest-budget independent film but it covers a lot of ground in women’s rights. Besides telling these women’s bold story, the drama throws in other reminders of how things used to be for women, from being the one’s asked to make the coffee to needing their husband’s permission to use birth control. Read full review.
Title: Ask for Jane
Directors: Rachel Carey
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Running Time: 108 minutes
Screenwriter: Rachel Carey, Cait Cortelyou
Distribution Company: levelFilm
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin