FREEHELD (USA/12A/103mins)
Directed by Peter Sollett. Starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell.
THE PLOT: When New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with terminal cancer she is determined for her pension to go to her partner Stacie (Ellen Page), so she can afford to stay in the home they shared together. The trouble is that while domestic partnership is legal, they have to campaign the Freeholders of their home county to grant Laurel’s dying wish, a wish they are none too keen to agree with.
THE VERDICT: It almost feels, in the wake of the Equality Referendum in Ireland in May 2015 and the US Supreme Court passing the same in June 2015, that ‘Freeheld’ has lost some of the impact it could have had if it was released a year ago. As it stands, the film is well acted and an important, if familiar story.
Julianne Moore takes on another uncomfortable and difficult role in ‘Freeheld’; Laurel is not only a woman diagnosed with cancer, but she is someone who has always kept her sexuality secret for fear of being discriminated against. Unsurprisingly, Moore manages the role with dignity and grace, but she is seriously sidelined in the second half of the film. By contrast, the second half of the film is where Ellen Page as Stacie comes into her own as once Laurel becomes unwell, Stacie stands up for her partner and the rights she is fighting for. Page is soft and vulnerable, and fierce and loyal by turn, but always utterly watchable. Michael Shannon is strong as Laurel’s long-time work colleague Dane, and Steve Carell has a weirdly over the top and camp role – that doesn’t always sit well with the rest of the film – as gay equality activist Steven.
Ron Nyswaner’s screenplay – based on the real battle that Laurel and Stacie went through – is well enough written for the audience to see just why these two women had such a fight to get what was legally theirs in the first place. As well as this, the central three characters are well fleshed out, it is when we get to Steve Carell as Steven that we begin to run into trouble. Steven is such an over the top and flamboyant character that it is clear he was added to bring some levity to the film, but it is precisely this that undermines the message of the film and turns it from feeling like an important story of love and equality into a slightly caricatured and uneven film.
‘Freeheld’ is director Peter Sollett’s first film since ‘Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist’ in 2008 and, while the story is an important one, and one that could be told anywhere in the world, it does end up feeling rather twee, laboured, and as though it was a made for TV movie since it lacks bite for much of the running time. That said, the film is well acted to give emotional punches, and the joy and grief is given a light touch.
‘Freeheld’ is an important story, the impact of which, in the wake of legal changes in Ireland and the US, has certainly been lessened. That said, Moore, Page and Shannon do their best with this twee and familiar script, while Steve Carell seems to have been brought in from a different movie entirely, so camp and over the top is his performance.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0An important story
  • filmbuff2011

    Based on a short film and inspired by a true story, Freeheld was unfairly overlooked by the Oscars nominations recently. Talk about diversity – or the lack of it in the Academy. If anything, Julianne Moore’s powerful performance here is more impressive than in the over-rated Still Alice.

    2002. New Jersey Police Lieutenant Laurel (Moore) is used to battling drug dealers as part of her job. She’s gained the respect of her male colleagues though, including her partner Dane (Michael Shannon) – who trusts her like a brother. Laurel keeps a secret from Dane though – she’s a low-profile lesbian and remains in the closet in order to avoid scorn from her colleagues. At an out-of-town volleyball match, Laurel meets younger woman Stacie (Ellen Page), who aggressively pursues her for a date. They meet up… and there’s a connection, but the first date doesn’t go so well. Laurel has a very ordered life and has certain rules that she lives by. Stacie is willing to adapt though. As their relationship grows and they fall in love, the move in together. Then Laurel faces an enemy that she can’t defeat – cancer. As her condition deteriorates, Laurel wants to extend her pension rights to her domestic partner Stacie, but this is blocked by the freeholders, or local Government. Some of them see it as a stepping stone to gay marriage. This sparks the interest of colourful activist Steve (Steve Carell), who gives voice to Laurel and Stacie’s case. Change can happen – if there’s a will…

    Following up the frothy Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist with a serious drama about equality, director Peter Sollett fashions a true-life story with moderate narrative impact. It may seem like a small story about pension benefit rights and the fight for recognition, which is perhaps why the film has sadly got such a limited release. However, there’s an important story here that has wider repercussions in terms of equality and treating everyone the same.

    The plot is admittedly of the TV-movie-of-the-week variety, so don’t expect anything edgy or confrontational. A bit more relevance to the bigger picture in America wouldn’t have gone amiss either (though, there is a brief reference in the end credits). The real strength here is in the cast. Sollett has scored an excellent cast to portray these characters. The ever-impressive Moore gives a very emotional performance – her character is never angry at her condition, but accepts it and tries to make the most of her time left with Stacie. Page and Shannon are solid support and Carell brings some much-needed levity and some hearty humour to keep the grim story moving to its inevitable conclusion. Freeheld won’t shake the earth in terms of impact, but it will certainly touch your heart. ***