“Freeheld,” starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, is a social drama that touches upon an important issue. Sadly, that is all that can be said about the film. Based on the true story of New Jersey detective Laurel Hester (Moore), the movie, released Oct. 2, centers on terminally ill Hester’s legal troubles to ensure that her pension benefits go to her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Page). While the subject matter is interesting and essential to understanding the struggle that LGBT communities went through to gain the rights they have now, the movie lacks originality and depth, which becomes a recurrent issue throughout the movie.
Hester is a very intriguing character; she is a closeted lesbian detective who has a traumatic past due to her sexuality. She meets Andree, and their relationship quickly develops. The relationship is never examined in depth, however, and this treatment makes it difficult to understand how much Andree and Hester love each other. Hester is a tough person to be in a relationship with, but the movie barely tackles this issue and, consequently, the relationship is never very convincing. Also, Page seems very uncomfortable playing a stereotypically masculine lesbian, and, perhaps as a result of this apparent discomfort, Page and Moore lack chemistry on screen.
We also get to see the hardships Hester faces as a female detective in a workplace that is practically run by men. Even though they have a close relationship, Hester is unable to come out to her work partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon). The relationship between Wells and Hester is intriguing as well, but, like other subplots, is not explored enough.
The second part of the movie tackles Hester’s fight for justice after she is diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. In the wake of her diagnosis, Hester decides that she wants to give her pension benefits to Andree. Moore, as Hester, once again creates miracles with her role, even though she’s given very little material to work with. Viewers are able to see the agony Hester feels at the hands of injustice, even though she herself is not very involved with the legal case. Instead, LGBT activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) and Wells handle the case, repeatedly appealing to local freeholders — the county legislators in New Jersey. Carell is the comic relief of the movie. His scenes succeed in striking a much-needed lighter tone.
Viewers constantly see the reactions of conservative freeholders to Hester’s case, but never know what the public thinks. Perhaps the movie is trying to criticize the legal system for ignoring public opinion, but it would have been better to see how the case might have affected the county’s opinion on marriage equality.
The movie has a predictable ending, but this is reasonable since the movie is biographical. The best part of the film is its end credits, where viewers see pictures of the real life Hester and Andree — ones that bear a striking resemblance to shots from the movie and remind the viewers that the story is nonfictional. Seeing the couple’s story through real life pictures is very emotional since it is easy to ignore the reality behind the movie while watching it.
It is truly remarkable to see how much society has changed over the past seven years. “Freeheld” is a great movie to remind us of the shift in political and legal attitudes. That said, it is also a very forgettable movie, relying on its main storyline so much that it fails to experiment or explore its subplots deeply. It will never be a timeless classic, but it is a movie that expertly shows the development of LGBT rights during the 21st century.