From the Archives: Freeheld review

From the Archives: Freeheld review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

MV5BMzM5NTg3NjU1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAwMjA3NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Despite an A-list cast, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and a true, relevant story, Freeheld can’t seem to lift itself out of after school special territory. Heck, if it were simply an after school special, it would certainly be one of the better ones, but up on the big screen it feels a bit Oscar-baity, and isn’t of a high enough quality where that’s not a problem (see: The Theory of Everything). This is particularly a shame given that the story is of great relevance. Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a homosexual detective who has chosen to stay in the closet for career reasons, often times sneaking away to towns where she is less well-known to engage in a social life. She meets Stacie Andree, a younger woman with whom she falls in love. The two become inseparable and eventually file a domestic partnership. Together they purchase a home, and shortly thereafter, Laurel is diagnosed with aggressive, late-stage lung cancer. Things look grim, and Laurel wants to ensure that after she passes away, her well-earned pension will go to Stacie. Unfortunately for the couple, there is much resistance from the Board of Freeholders, who steadfastly deny her request. As Laurel’s health declines, the urgency or her request increases, and it takes the help of an entire community to get the legally-recognized couple what they are owed.

Julianne Moore gives a wonderful performance, reminiscent of her Oscar-winning turn in last year’s Still Alice, in that she brings a dignity to the role, but let’s hope that Ms. Moore doesn’t become the go-to actress for “terminal disease movies.” Ellen Page is also fantastic as Stacie, whose love for Laurel feels genuine. One of the strengths of Freeheld is the romance at the center. It’s as believable as the romance in The Kids Are Alright wasn’t. Sick burn.


Michael Shannon, as Dane Wells, Laurel’s long-time work partner, plays a softer role than usual, and it suits him, but the character seems more functional than real. Regardless, when it comes time for Shannon to deliver a rousing speech on behalf of his terminally ill friend, he nails it. Steve Carrell also makes an appearance as Steven Goldstein, a Jewish, homosexual activist who is damn proud of his religion, sexual orientation, and job, who has taken it upon himself to turn Laurel’s cause into something even bigger. He wishes to help Laurel get her pension and to shake up the system along the way. His enthusiasm and sense of humor add comic relief to an otherwise brutally depressing film.

All the pieces are there – phenomenal acting talent, a powerful, inspiring story, and an altruistic message, but as a whole it feels like well-worn territory, with frequent dips into hokeyness serving to dampen things. Nothing really pops cinematically, so it’s hard to figure why this story needed the big-screen treatment. The people who need to see it won’t, and the people who will see it are already on board with marriage equality. Freeheld means very well, but is ultimately too bland to have much effect.

Freehold opens in Philly area theaters today.

Official site.

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