Freeheld is a moving account based on a true story about a gay woman’s fight for equality at the end of her life. It’s well balanced and well told, with actors at their best. It has a dash of humor here and there, which helps to relieve the tension created by a critical illness and treatment.
Laurel Hester (Moore) is an ace detective with a close, loyal partner in Dane (Shannon). With mutual respect, they have each other’s back, and he is aware that she has to fight twice as hard to move ahead in her job because she is female. They’ve lived in a seaside community in New Jersey all their lives and take pride in it—it also helps them to know residents of the area when they are investigating a crime.
Laurel has a private life because she has to keep her sexual orientation quiet. When she goes to play volleyball at a town nearby but out of state she meets Stacie (Page), who is much more “butch” than Laurel, who is blonde and still good looking at 40-ish. Stacie is a petite, savvy mechanic who likes her motorcycle, and despite such differences in age and interests, they fall in love and Laurel buys a house for them, which Page works hard to remodel.
They’re happy as clams until Laurel falls ill and her life is in jeopardy. Suddenly, it’s of utmost importance for Laurel to see that Stacie be able to remain in their house, primarily because it represents their bond. In order for this to happen, though, Stacie must be eligible to receive the benefits of her partner’s pension, and therein lies the rub. The county leaders, the “Freeheld”, have agreed unanimously not to grant her wish.
Enter a potential support and cause of some levity, Steve Carell as Steven Goldstein, a Jewish homosexual with political savvy and connections, although some see him as hamming it up too much. He certainly sounds outlandish in this conservative community, but he has had experience in rallying sympathizers to a cause. With some controls exerted by the more practical-minded Laurel and Dane, his work is efficacious.
Director Peter Sollett and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner present a well-balanced story that could have turned maudlin or one-sided. They seem to have retained the authenticity of the original story (apparently—as I have not read it), and the relationships, political issues and machinations largely ring true.
Julianne Moore is always a star in whatever role she has, and she and Ellen Page—also well talented—achieve a relationship that is warm, caring, and sexy. Michael Shannon usually plays odd characters, but here he is like a normal guy with basically good principles, and he pulls it off well. The same could be said for Steve Carell, a natural at buffoonery with a bite of wisdom and satire aptly placed. I was interested in seeing Josh Charles (formerly in TV’s “The Good Wife”--although he was killed—and in various productions since) in a role he carries well—that of a political figure who wrestles with his conscience.
A good film sure to increase awareness of and sympathy for gay issues.