ASK FOR JANE (2019)

May 16, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes the message of a movie is so much more important than the production quality that we can look past the ‘how’ that would normally make watching a chore, and instead focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ to find enlightenment. Writer-director Rachel Carey’s first feature film, co-written with Cait Cortelyou, tells the fascinating story of The Jane Collective … also known as ‘The Janes’ and ‘The Abortion 7’. It’s yet another true life story that finds us asking ourselves, “How have I never heard of this before?”

The film opens in 1972 when abortion was still illegal. The camera focuses on women in a jail cell … women that seem quite out of place behind bars. We then flashback 4 years to a dorm room in Chicago, and female students are discussing the predicament of one of their friends. This leads to the development and early stages of the Jane Collective, a secret organization to assist women in obtaining counseling and abortion. This was a time when not only was abortion illegal, but doctors would often speak directly to a husband about medical options for their wife, leaving the women with little information and no power to make their own decisions. The film touches on just how desperate women were. Rat poison, self-punches to the gut, razor blades, knitting needles, and even jumping off roofs were all used as ‘solutions’ to a situation for which they were only half responsible.

Now depending on your views, you may find abortion unacceptable. This underground abortion network assisted 11,000 women between 1968 and 1973, when Roe vs. Wade legalized the procedure. This landmark legal decision put an end to the Janes, as well as the back alley con artists and dangerous methods women previously used. Co-writer Cait Cortelyou stars as Rose, a character based on the real life Heather Booth, a hero to many. Supporting roles are covered by Cody Horn, Chloe Levine, Sarah Steele, Ben Rappaport, Sophie von Hasleberg, Alison Wright, Danny Flaherty, and Michael Rabe (son of the late Oscar winning actress Jill Clayburgh). Judith Arcana, a real life Jane, has a cameo and was a consulting producer on the film.

With a budget of only $250,000 raised (fittingly) through grass roots donations, the film is not a slick Hollywood production; however, these are women from recent history who deserve to be recognized and remembered for their courage and commitment. Women were forced to look out for each other, and these women certainly stepped up. With the recent legal attention being brought back to the topic of abortion, this story is quite timely, despite having taken place 50 years ago. How sad.

watch the trailer:


HOPE SRINGS (2012)

August 17, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. I often give extra credit to filmmakers for trying something challenging and different, even if the final product might fall a bit short. What I refuse to do is ignore the opposite … a lazy attempt by a filmmaker who thinks they can skate by simply because they picked a interesting topic. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) takes the screenplay from Vanessa Taylor and then seems to sit back and bank on the strength of three lead actors to make a statement.

Meryl Streep is the greatest living actress and maybe the greatest of all-time. She can turn any character into a subject of interest and doesn’t disappoint here as Kay, the disenchanted wife of Arnold, played by Tommy Lee Jones (himself an excellent actor). In an effort to save a marriage gone stale after 31 years, she books a week of intensive marriage counseling with Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). Grumpy Arnold reluctantly agrees to attend despite his belief that all is “fine” with their marriage for the singular reason that it’s lasted 31 years.  Besides that, he has golf to watch on TV … well, “watch” with his eyes closed.

What follows is not the laugh-fest promised by the trailer, but rather a semi-serious look at marriage for the over-60 generation. I say semi-serious because intense and thoughtful topics are raised, but the film continually makes U-Turns at each fork in the road so as to avoid coming up with any real solution or digging deeper into cause/effect. Instead, some prime opportunity is wasted for this to be either a riotous look at marital frustration or an intriguing dive into what makes men and women of this generation unable to communicate.

My contention is that just because this is a movie about marriage for 60-somethings, we shouldn’t give the filmmakers a gold star for effort. The great John Wooden said, “Never mistake effort for results“. There are some humorous moments … some laugh out-loud moments, but not very many. There are some serious topics broached, but only by skimming the surface. Mostly, the scenes are obvious and predictable and Streep and Jones carry the burden of lifting the material.  As a movie lover, I demand more.

 The three leads are excellent. Mr. Carell does a nice job of playing the understated counselor role. He is smart enough to know that this film belongs to Streep and Jones. There is also minor support work from Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue. All of these characters seem tossed in for variety only. None really drive the story. though it seems either one more or one less scene with with Shue in the bar would have made sense. The first 20 minutes of the film has three songs that just overpower the scenes.  I guess this is to ensure that every viewer recognizes the mood of the characters.  It’s as if the director recognized the material was lightweight.

I have labeled this genre Gray Cinema, and have previously stated that I expect we are on the front end of this trend as baby boomers demand more movies about themselves. The trend is commendable, but again I say, we should demand more and better.  Showing up is half the battle … now let’s see the other half.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy watching the great Meryl Streep brilliantly craft another of her cinematic characters

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you find the raising of issues to be a starting point, not a finish line for a story

watch the trailer: