Freeheld, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, is a compelling story of love, death and friendship that really gets under your skin. Directed by Peter Sollett, Freeheld is about one woman’s fighting for equality and love in the last months of her life. The film is based on the story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree’s relationship and the fight they had to secure Hester’s pension for Andree when she dies.
Hester, who is a decorated Ocean County police detective, is diagnosed with stage IV Lung Cancer not long after moving in with Andree and declaring their domestic partnership. When she leaves the police department to go into hospital, her partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) asks if there is anything he can do, and Hester asks him to help her secure her pension so Andree can stay in their home. Having the same knee-jerk reaction that a lot of people in the film seem to have, he declares that that is for married people, not really understanding what he is saying. But despite not understanding, Wells becomes an important advocate for Hester and Andree, putting his position at the police department on the line to help them.
The county Freeholders, who are the main obstacle for Hester and Andree are mostly made up of bigoted old men who are worried about the couple destroying the sanctity of marriage. But if there was ever a man for the job of wearing them down, it’s Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) who is unforgiving about his outlandish and slightly stereotypical personality, and uses political theatre to champion their case on a national level. Goldstein is a marriage equality advocate who pretty much hijacks Hester’s campaign and pulls her equality plea into marriage equality debate. Despite this, he is an instrumental part of getting their voices heard. Carell brings his comedic ways to the role and really lifts the film when he is on screen. His unwavering ability to make everyone uncomfortable, but in a surprisingly good way, brings a little bit of light to a heartbreaking story.
Freeheld is an emotional rollercoaster of love and death and everything in between. You really are on a whirlwind adventure with Hester and Andree as the two very different women fall in love despite age, distance and some very tense moments early on. But it is ultimately about two women who love each other and want the same rights as married couples. But what is missing is that kind of spark. Yes, it’s a good film, but there is something that isn’t quite hitting the mark. It feels like with the great range that Moore and Page can give, the script falls a little short of their abilities.
Despite this, Freeheld is engaging and sometimes surprisingly funny film that guides you through a devastating story, holding your hand as it goes. It might be a little slow, and it might not be guns blazing, but it tells the story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree with the grace and compassion it deserves.