Movie Review: “Freeheld”


“Freeheld” – a movie review by Gary Chew

With such a glut of regurgitated violence and bloody CGI shenanigans on the big and small screens, I cast my vote for people who assess and meter the quality of movies to cut a modicum of slack for films that appear armed with a significant amount of what I like to say have “social testicularity.” We have such a movie now opening. It’s titled Freeheld. The film presents itself with considerable cojones and a commensurate measure of irony — since it spins from a true story about two lesbians.

freeheldJulianne Moore and Ellen Page play domestic partners who get stiffed by a board of white male Republicans (Freeholders) in New Jersey. The panel votes not to allow the pension of New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester (Moore) to benefit Hester’s registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Page), after Hester finally succumbs to her diagnosed terminal late-stage lung cancer.

After meeting, falling in love and officially becoming domestic partners, the pair purchases a home.  Later, Hester receives her diagnosis. Andree is 18-years younger than Hester and the secondary breadwinner in the relationship, drawing much less money as an auto mechanic.

It’s been 23-years since Hester has been a detective assigned to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.  Her partner on the force is Dane Wells (Michael Shannon, who seems to be everywhere these days). They’ve been together working the same cases for years. He’s straight and doesn’t know Hester is a lesbian. She’s been in the closet a long time.

Wells does find out after stopping by her home unannounced one day with a housewarming gift and meets Andree. After Hester knows she has cancer and not long to live is when her partnership with Wells is tested. Both pass the test as Wells becomes one of the few on the force who finally stands up for her.

freeheldShannon is super as Wells. But so are Moore and Page in their roles. Even Steve Carell is in the cast giving the story some comic relief as a gay Jewish activist named Steven Goldstein. Carell wears a yarmulke in all his scenes and is quite a hoot; maybe more of one than the role actually calls for. But Freeheld is an important film even if it plays like a dramatic television movie script.

Maybe being obviously akin to TV narratives, Freeheld will make a greater impact. Perhaps that’s what director Peter Sollet and scriptwriter Ron Nyswaner had as the plan.

Page … as you may have read … came out just over a year ago as a gay woman. She bought the rights to the originating story as told in an Oscar-winning earlier documentary film (same titled) directed by Cynthia Wade.

Then there’s Julianne Moore, who should win an Oscar merely because she’s shown such “artistic testicularity” in taking on roles throughout her career that many other female movie stars wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. And there’s the other matter of just how damn good this woman is when she does a movie part. Obviously, Ms. Moore is one of my very favorite actors on the screen, not just for her talent, but because you can usually bet the farm on what roles she takes. Of her many, one of my favorites is “Charley” in A Single Man playing opposite Colin Firth.

Kudos to Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. And Ellen, thanks for standing up to El Donaldo.

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