“Freeheld,” starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page is the story based on true events of a Laurel Hester, a detective living in New Jersey. She is definitely “in the closet,” as her partner at work doesn’t even know that she is gay. She meets a much younger girl named Stacie and even though they seem like total opposites, they fall in love.
After buying a home and settling in as an official couple (including obtaining a domestic partnership), it’s not too long into their blissful relationship that Laurel learns that she has stage four lung cancer and her chance of survival is less than ten percent.
Laurel’s main objective, while she is alive, is to make sure that Stacie will receive her pension when she dies. Without Laurel’s pension, Stacie will not be financially capable of keeping the home that has given the couple the happiness that they have shared together.
To help them battle with the very conservative Freeholders of Ocean County, New Jersey is Laurel’s partner at work Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) and a gay rights activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell).
For all intents and purposes, “Freeheld,” is sold by its trailer as another film that make the moviegoer feel inspired and empowered after witnessing the courageous battle that Laurel Hester wages as her own life is slipping away from her. But “Freeheld,” lacks the authentic marks of a really powerful story.
“Freeheld,” was written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner. The film he was nominated for was “Philadelphia.” The two films: “Philadelphia” and “Freeheld” have many main components that are identical – a gay, misunderstood protagonist, a fight for what’s right and a fight waged by someone who is dying. Yet, “Freeheld” and “Philadelphia” are very different films.
Nyswaner has been open with the media, that the screenplay he really wanted to write, which would display some of the undesirable personality traits of Laurel and Stacie, was overruled by the producers of the film. The producers wanted a sanitized version of Laurel and Stacie’s life. And thus, there is the problem. By making Laurel and Stacie too good to be real, we lose any interest in the outcome of their plight. Add in direction that is over handed at times by Peter Sollett and lack of chemistry between Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, the film never approaches the richness that is found in Nyswaner’s earlier film, “Philadelphia.”
What is good in “Freeheld,” are the performances. Julianne Moore, who never fails in bringing her best to a role, continues here to brings Laurel Hester to life again. Even though the film has it’s obvious issues, Moore still stands a chance of award recognition for playing the dying Hester – let’s face it, Hollywood just loves this kind of performance. Ellen Page as Stacie also give a strong performance as the young lover that is always there for her mate. Steve Carell and Michael Shannon also give strong supporting performances.
All in all, “Freeheld,” could have been a great movie, if the producers would have given Nyswaner the freedom to do what he knows how to do – create a rich and powerful story. And once that was accomplished, the film should have been given to a much more established director.
If you are a really big fan of Julianne Moore, you will want to see “Freeheld,” just for her perfect performance, but don’t be surprised if you leave the theater thinking this story was better suited for a release on Lifetime television.
“Freeheld” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality and has a run-time of 103 minutes.