Julianne Moore rises above the clichéd, less than dignified treatment of this true life tale
Based on a moving true story, Freeheld should be a film that forces you to fight back the tears. Julianne Moore plays Laurel Hester, a dedicated, long-serving New Jersey cop who, unbeknownst to her colleagues, is gay. When she hooks up with blue-collar mechanic Stacie (Ellen Page), it looks like she’s found the perfect life – until she is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. All she wants to do is bequeath her police pension to Stacie but, despite their civil partnership, the request is denied by a panel of five Republican county legislators.
So begins a courtroom battle as the ailing Laurel and already-distraught Stacie are caught up in a case that gradually becomes headline news. Helping them is Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), an activist looking to drum up attention for the issue of gay marriage, and Laurel’s cop partner Dane (Michael Shannon), whose attempts to find support inside the local force are met with predictable homophobia.
Sadly, director Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) never really manages to tone down the broader inclinations of the script (penned by Ron Nyswaner, who wrote Philadelphia) or performances. Chief culprit Carell is OTT as Goldstein; while the portrayal may be accurate, his flamboyant performance upends the story. Furthermore, depicting Page’s character as a butch grease-monkey who can change a tyre faster than any man, and the aforementioned quintet of ‘freeholders’ as stuffy suits, feels one-note.
Fresh from her Oscar win for Still Alice, Moore is typically studious in the lead but as Laurel’s health deteriorates, the movie slips towards disease-of-the-week terrain. Unquestionably, gay rights and cancer are two heavyweight issues but neither is given the dignity they deserve in the fist-pumping finale. In true biopic fashion, Sollett finishes with photos of the real-life protagonists – yet another cliché in a film riddled with them.
Selected release from Fri 19 Feb.