Starring Juliane Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carrell
2015 appears to be the year of LGBT films, following last month’s Stonewall, recent Oscar winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Hunger Games) stars in the true story of a New Jersey detective fighting for equality. Freeheld has touching moments but it’s reliance on stereotypes and overused anecdotes dilute the films message. Both director Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and especially screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia, The Painted Veil) seem to have the experience to elevate this story and message above Lifetime material, yet their extensive experience in television seems to overtake their cinematic integrity.
Seaside Heights, New Jersey, 2002 Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was one of the city’s most dedicated detectives. Her research had just led to a major drug bust, she had recently met the woman of her dreams, starting their life together buying a house, everything was perfect until a doctors visit. Hester was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. With little hope of survival, Hester requested the city award her 23 year pension to domestic partner Stacie Andree (Page), so she might keep their house following her death. The City of Ocean County continually denied her request, creating a media firestorm reaching national attention. One of Hester’s biggest champions was her partner in justice Detective Dane Wells (Shannon), whom she hid her sexuality from for years.
Michael Shannon is the real stand out of the film.
Freeheld has a lot of material to cover in a short time and this proves problematic for the screenplay. We barely get introduced to Hester before she begins her relationship with Andree. The difficult dynamic of their relationship is actually some of the films best material; the age difference, the closeted public behavior, especially how Hester always puts her career before everything. “I have to be careful,” she explains, noting she could become the first female lieutenant in the county. Freeheld wants to talk about lesbian relationships, female discrimination in the workforce, and a case that changed an entire state. When the film gets to the segment of cancer treatment, Moore and Page are pushed to the background of the story and Shannon and Carrell take the lead championing her case. It becomes increasingly clear that the guts of the film is actually between Wells and Hester, whose characters have tremendous arcs, but the film realizes that too late in the editing process.
The scene where Hester reveals to Andree she is a cop, pulls out her weapon on a date to scare off some muggers, is a perfect example of Freeheld catering to Hollywood stereotypes, not to mention the cut off flannel shirts or “just write your number on my arm” moments. Freeheld isn’t as much of a performance piece for the actors as it is “an issues film”, which is fine, so was Philadelphia or Philomena, but the focus always remind on the people rather than the cause. Moore’s performance is good, when is she not good, but it isn’t awards worthy. Page’s version of Andree is written as stagnant and never gets her own arc. Shannon is the real stand out of the film, and the scene where the police department finally decide to stand by one of their own is Freeheld’s most powerful moment.
A heartbreaking, fight for your rights story that unfortunately is played by the numbers.