Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Movie with Abe: Freeheld

Directed by Peter Sollett
Released October 2, 2015

Stories of overcoming adversity are common in filmmaking, and are usually told in two parts. The exposition is crucial since it must introduce characters and make them compelling in their own right before presenting specific obstacles that they must face. “Freeheld” begins by showing New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) thriving in her work despite being surrounded by men, earning some needed relaxation in private with her much younger girlfriend Stacie (Ellen Page). Only when Laurel becomes sick and learns that her benefits will not go to her domestic partner does her public life merge with her private one, and a battle for justice and equality begins.

“Freeheld,” which is based on an Oscar-winning documentary short of the same name from 2007, succeeds in establishing Laurel as a dedicated, hard-working cop whose social life was limited mostly to a friendly relationship with her longtime partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon). When she meets the less outwardly feminine Stacie at a volleyball game, Laurel begins to truly show her happiness while keeping her love life a secret from everyone. Laurel frequently acknowledges the extensive age difference – the two were actually nineteen years apart while the actresses are twenty-seven years apart – and it’s clear that their romance is genuine even though it rarely sees the light of day.

“Freeheld” experiences a distinct shift in tone when Laurel is diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and her prospects are grim. While Dane rushes to her side to help her in the fight to award Stacie her pension, the freeholders’ association and other locals turn a blind eye to her cause. Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), the founder of Garden State Equality, quickly latches on to Laurel and tries to utilize her specific fight as a larger case for the legalization of gay marriage. While this story represents an important benchmark in the progress of equality across the United States, this is ultimately an individual tale of people who want only to have what they built together remain after one of them is no longer alive thrust into the public sphere because of what they want means.

Moore won an Oscar last year for playing a woman diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice,” and she is no stranger to portraying strong-willed women forced to deal with unexpected hardship and physical decline. Page, who has come a long way from playing the spunky pregnant title teenager in “Juno,” plays well opposite Moore, and the two anchor the film’s dramatic core with help from Shannon as Laurel’s other loyal partner and Josh Charles as a freeholder with more sympathetic views, with some great comic support from an enthusiastic Carell. The film has its truly emotional and stirring moments, augmenting an already touching true story. Director Peter Sollett, whose previous feature films are “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “Raising Victor Vargas,” helms an affirming and memorable ode to two real people, their journey together, and the implications and aftereffects of that journey.


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