Film review: Freeheld - Julianne Moore, Ellen Page gay rights drama simplistic
Lead actresses play gay lovers convincingly, but this true-life narrative about a New Jersey cop’s battle to leave her police pension to her same-sex partner is uneven and condescending
Even films with the best of intentions can go horribly awry. Take Peter Sollett’s Freeheld. The story of a lesbian couple fighting for their domestic rights, this progressive real-life tale begins as a credible romantic drama, as New Jersey cop Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) falls for blue collar car mechanic Stacie (Ellen Page).
Not out amongst her colleagues, Laurel keeps her relationship with Stacie quiet – even from her
straight partner Dane (Michael Shannon), who has his own feelings for her. Events change, however, when Laurel is diagnosed with terminal, stage four lung cancer. Swiftly, she decides she wants to leave the cash-strapped Stacie her police pension – a request denied by a panel of five Republican county legislators.
So begins a legal battle as the dying Laurel and her domestic partner take on the establishment – a case that gradually gains local and national attention. Helping the cause is Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), an activist looking to drum up attention for the issue of gay marriage. Carell may be a gifted comic actor but his judgment is way off here – portraying Goldstein as overly flamboyant in a manner that veers dangerously towards caricature.
Much the same can be said for the way Sollett handles a narrative that can’t decide if it’s a disease-of-the-week drama, a gay rights story or a courtroom battle. Moore anchors the movie with her usual quiet dignity, while Page and Shannon are also credible. But too often, they’re locked inside a simplistic, condescending retelling of what should be an inspiring true story.
Freeheld opens on December 10