Freeheld

Posted by Joel Copling on October 15, 2015


Ron Nyswaner's screenplay for "Freeheld" treats the issue of equality between hetero- and homosexual partnerships in the eyes of both the law and its constituents with careful caution, and one must pause for a moment to consider that reality. This is a film about a dying cop who wishes to pass on her pension, savings, and property to her partner of the same sex in a county that does not yet recognize their union (In a move beyond the film's control, the United States' Supreme Court ruled in favor of this union in June 2015, so its call for justice has been answered, relegating the film itself to a time capsule of sorts); in other words, it's far from subtle material, and that's part of the point. The trouble with "Freeheld" is that it holds back.

It's a film made of strokes of broadness that are always at war with each other. There's a sweet geniality to the relationship that blossoms between Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), the police officer, and Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), the much younger woman for whom Laurel falls head over heels. The two are kindred spirits from the moment the latter sees the former at a volleyball game in which they are friendly rivals. They quickly move in together under the guise of being platonic roommates, and although they make their real relationship known to family members, Laurel's professional partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) doesn't consider for some time that his fellow officer's sexuality is in question.

And then Laurel feels a pain in her side, which of course is actually Stage IV lung cancer that eventually spreads to her brain, back, and lymphatic system. Another plight reveals itself when the local courts deny her request to transfer her pension to Stacie. The film then settles into a standard-issue Issues drama, with Dane's closeted homophobia slowly breaking down in the face of a dying colleague and pushing the man to fight for her right to equality in front of a board of county officials (including Josh Charles as the lone, doubtful face of the group and Tom McGowan as the one hiding behind his own, thinly veiled prejudice).

The performances are fine, especially from Page (whose Stacie faces the loss, not only of the woman she loves, but also of the cozy future she sees for them) and Moore (especially as it gets harder for Laurel to breathe and speak), although one stands out for the wrong reasons (Steve Carell, overly and stereotypically flamboyant as a gay, Jewish activist who contacts Dane to help in bringing awareness to Laurel's situation). The film is a modest one aesthetically (with director Peter Sollett and cinematographer Maryse Alberti sort of nonpresences behind the camera) and a conflicting one emotionally. Yes, Laurel's ultimate fate is affecting, but the treatment of her desperate social situation is handled so softly that "Freeheld" merely comes across as quaint and, worse, sort of inconsequential.

Film Information


Julianne Moore (Laurel Hester), Ellen Page (Stacie Andree), Steve Carell (Steven Goldstein), Michael Shannon (Dane Wells), Josh Charles (Bryan Kelder), Luke Grimes (Todd Belkin), Skipp Sudduth (Reynolds), Dennis Boutsikaris (Pat Gerry), Tom McGowan (Bill Johnson), Gabriel Luna (Quesada).

Directed by Peter Sollett and written by Ron Nyswaner.

Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, language, sexuality).

103 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 2, 2015.