wed 29/05/2024

Freeheld | reviews, news & interviews



Uninspired direction mars well-meaning gay rights drama

Down among the dunes: Ellen Page (left) and Julianne Moore as the beleaguered Stacie and Hester in 'Freehold'

There’s always a slight sinking feeling when the first words to appear onscreen are "Based on a True Story". The first worry is that it’s a story you already know, and the movie will lack any narrative surprises, the second that it will be a Good Cause. Sadly, Freeheld doesn’t dodge these pitfalls, despite a quality cast. This has to be blamed on the predictable script by Ron Nyswaner (of Philadelphia fame) and Peter Sollet’s by-the-numbers directing. 

Set in the mid-Noughties, it’s the tale of a dedicated New Jersey police detective, Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), who falls in love with a younger woman, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), and sets up home with her. Soon they have each other, a dog, and a house to renovate near the beach. Hester’s been in the force for over 20 years, and she’s on her way to making lieutenant; Andree scores a job as a mechanic because she may be petite but she can change car wheels in record time. What could possibly go wrong? It’s unlikely to be a tsunami or an alien invasion.

Hester is not out to her macho colleagues; she’s an exemplary cop who can take down a drug dealer without ruffling her Farrah Fawcett hair do. She keeps her private life private. Her long-term colleague Dane Wells (Michael Shannon, unusually cast here as a good guy) calls round unannounced with a house-warming gift and mistakes Andree for a gardener rather than a girlfriend. There’s an initial frisson of tension – will Hester stay in the closet? Has Wells secretly been in love with his work partner all along, as Andree suspects? Unfortunately such dilemmas go unexplored; the good guy stays saintly throughout the film. Wells gets over his surprise and is soon firmly on Hester and Andree’s side.

The couple need him when Hester discovers she has stage four cancer. Not only does Hester undergo gruelling treatment, she has to fight local politicians (County Freeholders, hence the movie's title). These men in suits sit on a dais and deliberate; they could pass a resolution to award Hester's police pension to Andree. Without it, Andree will lose not only Hester if she dies but also their home.

At the end we get photos of the actual Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree

The film picks up some energy when Steve Carell (pictured above right) appears as a flamboyant local activist: "It's Steven, with a V – as in very gay – and when people disrespect my gay brothers and sisters, I rain terror on them. Shock and awe." But unfortunately the energy dissipates into too many repetitive scenes of protesters waving rainbow banners in court, traditionalist cops wavering over supporting their lesbian colleague, and desperate attempts to dig some dirt on the Freeholders.  

Freeheld has a very worthwhile subject, and its A-list liberal actors do their best. Julianne Moore endures not only the dodgy blonde wig but the obligatory chemo scenes; at one point I feared that she was going to give her most important speech with her bald head buried deep in a hoodie and her mouth hidden by a surgical mask. The actress does disease brilliantly, as in Still Alice. But the director can’t resist clichés – dialogue-free scenes of the loved-up couple enjoying DIY; homophobic rednecks threatening violence; the autumnal beauty of a cemetery with bag-piping police officers…

At the end we get photos of the actual Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, and follow-up captions. The portraits are from the 2007 Oscar-winning short documentary about their case. These brief glimpses of the real-life less glamorous women were more intriguing than the movie version that had gone before.

Julianne Moore endures not only the dodgy blonde wig but the obligatory chemo scenes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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