‘Freeheld’ is a very important film... or is it? I’m not talking about the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary short of the same name and subject, but the latest Peter Sollett (‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’) feature. In June of this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage for all 50 States. Small battles ensue, but for the large part, the war has been won. So why this film, and why now?
Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a respected and decorated New Jersey detective of over 20 years. Still closeted at work and within her community, she meets the young Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) out of town and the pair start a relationship. A year in, the couple are now living together in their own home and have legally become domestic partners. When Laurel is diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, she make the request that her pension be passed on to Stacie upon her death, just like any other spouse in the police force. This request is denied by the county’s board of Freeholders based not on the law but on their views of "the sanctity of marriage", and so the battle begins. Picked up by major newspapers and TV stations, Laurel inadvertently becomes the face of gay rights with the help of flamboyant activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), a lawyer who walks around in a purple yarmulke, calling everyone "sweetheart" and uses political theatre to fight for gay marriage rights.
SWITCH: 'FREEHELD' TRAILER
The film is divided into three types of people: pro gay rights, homophobes and those too afraid to show they’re pro-gay rights (also known as cowards). Every character has their place and their purpose - almost too many characters. Once the real ‘Freeheld’ story kicks in, who the protagonist is gets blurry. Is it Laurel? Stacie? Steven? Conflicted Freeholder Bryan Kelder (Josh Charles) or Laurel’s work partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon)? The man on the verge of losing his partner and friend who is suddenly thrown into this battle after only just discovering Laurel’s sexuality. This makes for clunky, unfocused storytelling.
With its low-budget and high star power, this is definitely a no-frills film. No make-up, fancy costumes or sets, just a story. There’s no real detail given to any characters, they all just seem to be defined by their jobs. Even during Laurel and Stacie’s stunted courtship it lacks any real and genuine warmth and simply a passage of time, going through the motions. It’s the audience who are forced to fill in the gaps using our real life knowledge of love and the presence of a soul, and on come the tears. I’ll admit I left this film dehydrated with tear-soaked sleeves, but that was simply the power of the story and not the quality of the filmmaking behind that emotion. Laurel and Stacey’s story deserved better, and they got it back in 2007. If you’re looking for more, perhaps you should find it in the documentary short.