Director: Peter Sollett
Stars: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carrell
In a time where equal LBGT rights have come so far, Peter Sollett’s Freeheld, should have been a more substantial film. It suffers from one-dimensional characters and a lifeless narrative, which undermine the film’s good intentions. The film is based on the real-life story of Laurel Hester and her fight for pension benefits for her partner, Stacie Andree, but it struggles to translate convincingly on screen. Even with its strong subject matter, combined with its great cast, Freeheld lacks the spark needed to be a memorable film.
Julianne Moore portrays Laurel Hester, a detective in Ocean County, New Jersey, who although is honest with herself about her sexuality, she is closeted amongst her colleagues at work. She fears the truth will effect her career in the police force. The film proceeds to narrate the story of how she meets and falls in love with Stacie. (Ellen Page). After Laurel gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, we watch her battle against the establishment, who refuse to grant her wish of leaving Stacie pensions benefits, just because of the fact that she is a woman. With the help of her colleague, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), and activist Steven Goldstien (Steve Carell), they challenge the count officials, alongside many other people, in support of equality.
Moore’s depiction of Laurel Hester is certainly a likeable portrayal, but as a character, she lacks the depth and complexity that the viewer can really align themselves with. Watching her decline in health is of course very saddening, and Moore’s performance in this regard is excellent. However, I feel not enough anticipation and empathy for the character is created in the early stages of the film. I obviously don’t know what the real-life Laurel Hester was like, but as an on-screen character, she lacks the substance needed to capture a genuine connection with the audience.
On the other hand, Ellen Page’s portrayal of Stacie is slightly more interesting, as she has a certain level of distinctiveness. Also, her clear openness and assurance of her sexuality provides an interesting contrast to Laurel, even though Stacey is actually much younger than her. In terms of Laurel and Stacie’s relationship, it lacks authenticity, and Sollett navigates their relationship in very tedious directions, and it all seems very rushed, even from the early stages of the relationship. Much of their romance is quite dull to watch, but I believe Sollett successfully presents a lesbian relationship that isn’t sensationalised in any way.
Until about the half way point the film seriously lacks energy, but thankfully the introduction of Steve Carrell’s character provides the film with a charismatic rebirth. Although it’s quite over the top, Carrell delivers a fun and camped-up performance, and you start to wonder why Carrell was not introduced much earlier in the film. The scenes involving Goldstein’s rallying against the county officials are great to watch. You really do become aligned with the cause, whilst despising the country freeholders, who all apart from Bryan Kelder (Josh Charles), clearly have personal agendas against same-sex equality.
Overall: Freeheld is good for what it stands for, but it does not delve deep enough to promote its messages. The film lacks substance and the script may be to blame, but ultimately I feel like Laurel Hester’s story doesn’t get the representations it deserves. Even with a tedious and underdeveloped narrative, the film still manages to have its moments of clarity. I wouldn’t argue Freeheld should be avoided entirely, but it’s a fair distance away from being an essential viewing.
Freeheld was one of my first reviews to be published on this blog, so it hasn’t had that much attention. I thought I’d re-publish it to give it some air time.