FREEHELD – Review by Susan Granger
Julianne Moore propels this based-on-a-true-court case of a lesbian cop who takes on an entire community to demand equal rights and justice for her domestic partner. Working for the Ocean County Police Department in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, Laurel Hester (Moore) always kept quiet about her private life until she meets smart, eloquent garage mechanic Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) at a volleyball game. Read on…
When the two women decide to commit to one another and renovate a house, Laurel realizes that her longtime squad-car partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), feels betrayed because she’d never trusted him enough to confide in him.
Then, in 2004, Laurel is diagnosed with terminal, stage-four lung cancer. While receiving radiation, she tries to assign her pension to Stacie so she can retain their home. But the prejudiced county commissioners, called Freeholders, use a loophole to refuse to extend benefits to same-sex partners.
Although Laurel’s fellow officers initially fail to come to her defense, empathetic Dane does, becoming her staunch ally, along with a civil rights activist, Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), a self-described “loud, gay Jew” wearing a purple yarmulke, who turns Laurel’s appeal into a national front-page story involving a miscarriage of justice.
Laurel’s case changed New Jersey law, extending domestic partner benefits to all public employees, whether they’re married or not, paving the way to the subsequent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage.
Earnestly scripted by Ron Nyswaner (“Philadelphia”), it’s formulaically directed by Peter Sollett (“Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” “Raising Victor Vargas”). It’s not only miscast but also lacks that essential spark of excitement. And Steve Carell’s boisterous characterization is so stereotypical that it’s cringe-worthy.
Cynthia Wade’s 2007 Oscar-winning short documentary “Freeheld” was more effective.
FYI: Those who decry age disparity in on-screen romances should not that the difference between Julianne Moore and Ellen Page is a whopping 26 years. And working on this film inspired Ellen Page to come out of the closet about her real-life sexuality in Feb., 1914.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Freeheld” is a familiar 5, more of a tear-jerking TV movie-of-the-week.