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New Release Review - FREEHELD

A cop suffering from terminal cancer battles to have her pension transferred to her domestic partner.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Peter Sollett

Starring: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, Michael Shannon, Josh Charles


This is the sort of film that believes it's an extra tragedy that someone with great hair ends up losing it due to cancer, just as Still Alice suggested Alzheimer's was being particularly cruel in latching onto a professional linguist. Of course, a balding plumber wouldn't be bothered by such afflictions. Not at all.



You can tell it's awards season as, once again, Julianne Moore is suffering on screen. This time last year it was Alzheimer's in Still Alice, now it's terminal cancer. When we meet her first she's sporting a lush hairstyle that suggests her cop character idolised Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker; by the end of the film her treatment has rendered her bald. This is the sort of film that believes it's an extra tragedy that someone with great hair ends up losing it due to cancer, just as Still Alice suggested Alzheimer's was being particularly cruel in latching onto a professional linguist. Of course, a balding plumber wouldn't be bothered by such afflictions. Not at all.
Here, Moore is playing a real life character, Laurel Hester, a New Jersey cop diagnosed with terminal cancer. With her chances of survival rated at less than 10%, Hester prepares for the inevitable and requests that her police pension be transferred to her domestic partner, Stacie (Ellen Page). The county board however, worried that their aging conservative voters will be unimpressed with such a concession, refuse to grant her wish. Determined to avail of the same rights afforded to her hetero colleagues, Laurel begins a campaign to turn around the board of freeholders's decision.
Except in this film, she doesn't. As soon as the freeholders make their decision, Freeheld stops being a movie about the plight of Laurel and Stacie, and instead becomes a tale of a hetero white knight - Michael Shannon's Dane, Laurel's cop partner, who alienates himself from his fellow cops in fighting for his former colleague. Screenwriter Ron Nyswater has previous when it comes to this sort of thing, having penned the Oscar winner Philadelphia.
The movie contradicts itself at several turns. It tells us that all people are equal, but goes out of its way to treat minorities differently. A ridiculous amount of time is spent selling the idea that Laurel and Stacie are a loving couple, something that just wouldn't be given a second thought were they straight. Then there's Steve Carell as an offensive Jewish, gay stereotype that belongs in a '70s sitcom. He's introduced with a close-up of his yarmulke, because for some reason the movie really, really wants you to know he's Jewish, just as much as it really, really wants you to know he's gay. In one scene, Laurel explains to Dane how the same opportunities don't exist for gay women as for straight men, but minutes later we see Stacie stroll off the street into a garage and find employment on the spot!
Director Peter Sollett doesn't seem to know what story he's telling, as the movie shifts from cop drama to love story to comedy to disease of the week weepy, and Moore, Shannon and Carell all seem to be playing the lead in three different movies. When the film closes with a montage of photos of the real life Laurel and Stacie, we're left wondering what a movie about their story might be like, because we certainly didn't get this in Freeheld.
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